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Alternative Names 
folacin, folic acid , folate

Folacin is also known as folic acid and folate. It is a water-soluble vitamin. It is one of the eight members of the B complex. These include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid

What food source is the nutrient found in? 
Foods naturally high in folacin include:
  • citrus fruits
  • beans
  • peas
  • avocado
  • wheat germ
  • peanuts and other legumes
  • spinach and other dark greens, such as broccoli, asparagus, asian greens, brussel sprouts
  • organ meats (liver, kidney, heart)
  • yeast extracts (vegemite, marmite)
Fortified grain products such as commercial breads and cereals are good sources of folacin.

The recommendation or the RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake) for folate is 200 mcg (micro grams) per day for adult men and women. This amount is especially important for women of child-bearing age. An extra 200 mcg is needed in pregnancy and 150mcg extra in breast feeding. Daily intake of folate should not exceed 1,000 mcg. This is because too much folacin can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

How does the nutrient affect the body? 
Folacin plays many important roles in the body:
  • prevention of neural tube defects in foetuses before birth. Neural tube defects are malformations in the foetus that occur during pregnancy, involving defects in the skull and spinal column.
  • normal growth and maintenance of all cells.
  • involvement in production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
  • works with vitamin B12 to form haemoglobin in red blood cells.
  • together with vitamins B12 and B6 may protect against heart disease

Folacin is a B vitamin required for many chemical processes in the body. Folic acid is a man made form of folate. It converts easily into the natural form of the vitamin in the body.

Getting enough folate during pregnancy is key to reducing the risk of neural tube defects in newborns. A neural tube defect arises when tissue does not properly close around the spinal column. This is also called spina bifida. 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. Neural tube defects occur in about 400 - 500 pregnancies in Australia each year. Scientific experts agree that up to 2/3 of neural tube defects can be prevented by taking enough folate at least one month prior to pregnancy and during the first three months of pregnancy. A supplement of 500mcg (micrograms) daily is recommended for all woman of child bearing age.

As well as preventing birth defects, folate may 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 connected with a higher heart disease risk. Homocysteine levels seem to be lower in people who get plenty of folate in their diets. Current evidence 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.

Author: Susan Harrow Rago, RD, MS
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr Dr John Hearne

Last Updated: 21/09/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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