Alternate Names : Folacin, Folic Acid
Folate is the form of a particular B vitamin found in foods.
Folate is the generic term for all forms of this vitamin. Folic acid is the
man-made or synthetic form of the vitamin. It is found in fortified foods and
vitamin supplements. Folic acid is better absorbed and more readily available
to the body than folate. In fact, the body absorbs only about 50% of the folate
in food. In contrast, about 85% to 95% of the folic acid from supplements and
fortified foods is absorbed.
Getting enough folate during pregnancy lowers the risk of neural tube
defects in newborns. A neural tube defect occurs when the neural tube fails to
close properly. The developing brain or spinal cord is exposed to the amniotic
fluid in the woman's uterus. The two most common neural tube defects are
anencephaly and spina bifida. People with spina bifida have a defect of the
spinal column that can result in varying degrees of disability. Babies with
anencephaly do not develop a brain. They are stillborn or die shortly after
Folate is crucial during the first 18 to 30 days of pregnancy. The
baby's brain and spinal column are in a critical stage of development during
this period. A woman may not even know that she is pregnant at this early
stage. Many pregnancies are unplanned, which makes it very important for women
to consume enough folate before conception. The National Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention estimate that about 2,500 infants with spina bifida and
anencephaly are born each year in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, CDC, estimates that 400 mcg of folate per day could result in a 2/3
decrease in this rate.
Folate may also have a role in lowering heart disease risk.
Scientists are studying the link between folate and a substance called
homocysteine. High homocysteine levels in the blood have been linked with a
higher heart disease risk. Homocysteine levels seem to be lower in people who
get plenty of folate in their diets.
also suggests that folate may have a role in the prevention of some cancers. This
is especially true when it is consumed along with a variety of nutrients found
in fruits, vegetables, and other foods.