Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is vital for the healthy development of the foetus. Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements to help protect against neural tube defects. However, this vitamin has a major role to play during other life stages too.
Folic acid is essential for the creation and repair of DNA. It is also vital for healthy blood cells. A lack of folic acid can be one of the causes of anaemia. It also appears to play a protective role in the body, regulating the production of homocysteine, an amino acid – overproduction of which is a risk factor for strokes. Some studies have shown that folic acid deficiency may be a factor in depression.
The body cannot manufacture folic acid, so it has to be obtained from the diet or through supplements. Excellent sources of folic acid include dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, broccoli, asparagus, lentils, cauliflower and beets. Some citrus fruits are also a good source of folic acid, and it is added to many fortified cereals.
As a supplement, folic acid is widely available in tablet or capsule format, and can also be taken as a liquid.