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What is Folic Acid? Structure, Formula, Benefits

Aug 9, 2022

Folic Acid 

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin part of the Vitamin B Complex. Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B9. The folic acid formula is C19H19N7O6. Since humans cannot produce folate, it must be obtained through diet, making it an essential vitamin. The body converts folic acid into folate for dietary supplements and food fortification. It is found naturally in a variety of foods. 

Folic acid benefits are numerous. It is used to treat anemia caused by a lack of folate. Pregnant women take folic acid as a supplement to lower the chance of neural tube defects (NTDs) in their children. In addition, folate is required by the body to produce RNA and DNA. It is also required to metabolize amino acids required for cell division. 


Folic Acid Structure and Formula 

Folic Acid Structure

Folic Acid


The folic acid structure consists of three major constituents: 

  • Pteridine ring
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid
  • Glutamic acid. 

Folic acid derives its name from the Latin word folium, which means “leaf,” because it is present in many leafy plants.


The chemical formula of folic acid is C19H19N7O6. The structure of folic acid is similar to tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), a cofactor in nitric oxide synthesis.  

Folic acid is an orange-yellow odorless powder with a molecular weight of about 441.404 g/mol. It has a melting point of 482°F. It is hydrophilic and slightly soluble in methanol, ethanol, and butanol-like organic solvent.


Folic Acid Benefits and Uses

Here are some common uses and benefits of folic acid supplements.

1. Treating a lack of folate 

Deficiency of folate can occur for a variety of causes. Some of the probable reasons for folate insufficiency include

  • Lack of dietary folate
  • Illnesses or treatments impact your body’s ability to absorb folates, such as celiac disease and bypass surgery
  • A lack of gastric acid (achlorhydria) or a low level of gastric acid (hypochlorhydria). 
  • Medications that interfere with folate absorption, such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine.
  • Alcoholism
  • Pregnancy
  • Anemia due to hemolysis
  • Hemodialysis

Anemia, prenatal development difficulties, mental disability, and depression can all result from consuming insufficient folate. Taking folic acid or folate pills can help you increase your levels and avoid these issues.

2. Preventing birth abnormalities and problems during pregnancy

Folic acid supplementation can help avoid neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Getting adequate folic acid throughout pregnancy can lower your baby’s chances of being diagnosed with one of these diseases. Folic acid supplementation not only helps avoid problems with embryonic development but also helps reduce the chance of pregnancy disorders like preeclampsia.


3. Keeping your brain healthy

  • Inadequate folate levels in the blood have been related to impaired brain function and a higher incidence of dementia. Even theoretically normal but low folate values may raise the risk of mental impairment in older adults.
  • Optimal folate consumption may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that consuming 400 mcg of folic acid pills daily for two years enhanced markers of brain activity and lowered blood levels of proteins implicated with Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Managing mental health issues

  • Folate is important in the synthesis of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. A lack of folate has been related to depression, psychosis, and other mental health issues.
  • Persons with depression, for instance, could have decreased serum levels of folate than individuals who are not depressed. According to research, folic acid supplementation may help lessen symptoms of mental health problems such as postnatal depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder.
  • Taking folate supplements alongside antidepressants may alleviate depressive symptoms more effectively than antidepressants.

5. Lowering the risk factors for heart disease

Folic acid may benefit heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. High amounts of amino acid homocysteine are known to elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since folate aids in the breakdown of homocysteine, a lack of folate can result in elevated homocysteine levels, commonly termed hyperhomocysteinemia.

  • Folic acid supplementation can help lower homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, using folic acid supplements and antihypertensive drugs may lower hypertension much more than taking antihypertensive medications alone. Folic acid tablets may also help patients with heart disease restore blood vessel function.

6. Other Possible Advantages

Folic acid supplements could also assist with the following health issues:

  • Diabetes: Folate supplements may assist people with diabetes in optimizing blood sugar management and minimizing insulin resistance. Because the diabetic medication metformin can drop folate levels, you must take a folic acid supplement.
  • Fertility problems: Folate can help eggs develop and implant in the uterus by improving egg quality. Taking folate may improve the chances of becoming pregnant and bringing a child to term. People who utilize reproductive technology to enhance conception may have a better chance of having a baby if they consume more supplementary folate.
  • Inflammation: Many illnesses are caused by inflammation. Folic acid and folate supplementation has been demonstrated to lower inflammatory indicators such as C-reactive protein.
  • Kidney failure: The kidneys normally filter waste from the blood, but when they are injured, homocysteine can accumulate. Homocysteine levels in the blood are elevated in around 85 percent of people with chronic renal disease. In those with renal illness, folic acid supplementation may help lower homocysteine levels and the risk of heart disease. 

Recommended intake

Pregnant women and women of childbearing should take 400-800 mcg of folic acid daily. 4,000 mcg per day is recommended for people with spina bifida or a family history of neural tube abnormalities. Women who are nursing should try to consume 500 mcg each day.

The body better absorbs folic acid from supplements and fortified foods than folate from naturally produced foods.

The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that individuals obtain the dietary folate equivalents (DFEs) listed below through food or nutrient sources:

Age Recommended amount
0–6 months 65 mcg DFE
7–12 months 80 mcg DFE
1–3 years 150 mcg DFE
4–8 years 200 mcg DFE
9–13 years 300 mcg DFE
14–18 years 400 mcg DFE
19+ years 400 mcg DFE

It should be noted that folic acid can interact with some drugs and may not be suitable for everyone.

Before taking folic acid, a person should consult with a doctor if they have any of the following conditions:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) 
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Celiac disease

People who are on dialysis should want to avoid taking folic acid.

Sources of Folic Acid 

Folic acid is found in nutritional supplements as well as fortified foods such as bread, flour, cereals, and grains. It’s also a popular ingredient in B-complex vitamins. Many foods contain naturally high levels of folate. Among the best sources are:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli)
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains 
  • Peanuts
  • Beans 
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Fruit juices
  • Liver
  • Fortified foods and supplements
  • Eggs
  • Seafood

Side Effects and Precautions of Folic Acid

When used orally, most persons should take no more than 1 mg of folic acid daily. Doses more than 1 mg per day may be dangerous. These dosages may induce stomach trouble, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, behavior changes, skin responses, seizures, and other adverse effects. There is a considerable worry that taking too much folic acid over an extended period might have significant adverse effects. Some study shows that taking folic acid in dosages of 0.8-1.2 mg each day may raise the risk of cancer or heart stroke in persons with cardiac issues.


Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate, a B vitamin. Folate is also included in foods and marketed as a supplement in the shape of folic acid; this kind is generally better digested than dietary sources. 

Folate aids in the formation of DNA and RNA and is vital in protein metabolism. It is essential for the breakdown of homocysteine, an amino acid that, in excessive concentrations, can be detrimental to the body. Folate is also required to produce healthy red blood cells and is especially important during periods of fast growth, such as gestation and fetal development. Most individuals obtain sufficient folate from their food, but those at risk of deficiency and pregnant women might have to take folic acid supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should take folic acid?

Folic acid should be included in the daily diet of all women of childbearing age. It is recommended that women begin as early as ten years old since developing good behaviors is more straightforward when we are young. The supplement must be in the woman’s system for at least one month before conception to get full effects and advantages.

Which birth abnormalities is folic acid beneficial in preventing?

Folic acid has been shown to lower the risk of the following neural tube abnormalities (NTDs) by up to 70%
1. Spina bifida
2. Anencephaly
3. Heart defect during birth
4. Lip and palate deformity
5. Defects in limb reduction
6. Uropathies with obstruction

Do folic acid supplements cause side effects?

Folic acid pills are safe to take and have no noticeable adverse effects in women who take them. Some women may have minor discomfort at the start of pill use, such as darkening of feces, constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and so on, which normally subsides after a few weeks of continued supplementation. If the irritation does not go away after a few weeks, the woman should go to the local health center.

Folic acid


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