Folic acid and folates are B vitamins (they are also known as vitamin B9). While the two terms are often used interchangeably, a distinction should be made between them:
- Folate refers to the natural form of the vitamin, found in foods
- Folic acid (monopteroylglutamic or pteroylmonoglutamic acid) refers to the oxidized form of the vitamin, and is a synthetic molecule used in vitamin supplements and fortified foods.
Our body uses folic acid to make new cells. In recent decades, folic acid has been recognized as essential to prevent some birth defects, especially neural tube defects.
A varied and well-balanced diet usually ensures adequate intake of folates. The recommended daily intake for the general population is 0.4 mg. Pregnant and lactating women, however, have higher requirements. In particular, the recommended daily intake for pregnant women and those of childbearing age who are planning or capable of pregnancy is 0.6 mg (because the foetus relies on maternal supply of nutrients). During breastfeeding, the daily intake should be 0.5 mg (to replenish the amount lost through milk). For this reason, women are advised to take vitamin B9 supplements during pregnancy. As recommended by the Italian Network for the promotion of folic acid and the primary prevention of birth defects:
- women of childbearing age who are planning or capable of pregnancy should supplement their diet with 0.4 mg/day of folic acid, from at least 1 month before conception through the first 3 months of pregnancy (periconceptional period). Read the recommendation (pdf 62 kb).
In Italy, (at this dose) folic acid is included in the list of fully reimbursable medicines.