Folic Acid vs. Folate: What’s the Difference?

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The terms folic acid and folate are often interchangeably to refer to vitamin B9. In this article, we will walk you through the folic acid vs. folate difference and how you can get adequate amounts in your diet.

In this article:

  1. Overview: Folic Acid vs. Folate
  2. Benefits of Vitamin B9
  3. Sources of Folate and Folic Acid
  4. Recommended Dosage

Folic Acid vs. Folate: Differences, Benefits, and Sources

Overview: Folic Acid vs. Folate

Folate is the naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9, a vitamin vital for the production of red blood cells, tissue growth, cell function, and embryonic development. The synthetic form of folate is folic acid.

Folate is present in small amounts in many foods like leafy green vegetables. However, folate is extremely sensitive to heat, oxidation, and UV light. Therefore, it may be challenging for most women to get the recommended amount of Vitamin B9 from natural sources.

On the other hand, folic acid is a more stable form of Vitamin B9, making it suitable for fortification in foods such as bread and cereals and supplements.

Benefits of Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 in its natural and synthetic form has a significant role and benefits for the human body beginning from embryonic development. Folate and folic acid help in:

Prevention of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)

Neural tube defects refer to a group of defects of the brain, spine, and spinal cord that occurs very early during pregnancy. NTDs occur in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman becomes aware of her pregnancy.

Consuming folic acid taken one month before and during early pregnancy helps increase the chance of the neural tube closing properly by 50% to 70%. Since the neural tube forms and closes between 17-30 days after conception, starting folic supplementation later will not make much of a difference in preventing NTDs.

Therefore, to help prevent NTDs, women need to consume adequate folic acid amounts before pregnancy begins.

Folate Deficiency Anemia Treatment

The lack of folic acid in the blood results in folate deficiency anemia. Symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy or tiring easily
  • Pale skin
  • Smooth and tender tongue

Treatment includes consumption of a well-balanced diet of foods with folate or folic acid as well as folic acid supplements.

Lowering the Risk of Cancer

Observational studies show that inadequate Vitamin B9 intake or deficiency may increase the risk for certain types of cancers. These include cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, head and neck, pancreatic, esophagus, bladder, and cervix.

Vitamin B9 deficiency, combined with high alcohol intake, may also increase the risk of breast cancer.

Mood Health

Vitamin B9, B6, and B12 are excellent vitamins for a better mood. They work together to help break down the amino acid homocysteine. Several studies have revealed that patients with depression also have an elevated incidence of folate deficiency.

Sources of Folate and Folic Acid

Folate and folic acid are present in foods, fortified products, and supplements. Natural sources include:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • leafy greens (kale, cabbage, and spinach
  • peas
  • chickpeas and kidney beans
  • liver (but avoid this during pregnancy)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring food manufacturers to incorporate 140 mcg folic acid/100g to products widely consumed in the United States since January 1998. Folic Acid fortified products include:

  • Cereals
  • Enriched bread
  • Flours
  • Corn meals
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • other grain products to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs)

Folic acid is also available in prenatal vitamins, multivitamins, and supplements containing other B-complex vitamins.

Recommended Dosage

Adults should consume the recommended daily amount (RDA) of 400 micrograms (mcg). For adult women who are planning to get pregnant or could become pregnant. It is advised to take 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid a day.

Folic acid supplements are generally safe. However, high doses may interfere with some seizure drugs. In some cases, a folic acid supplement can mask a dangerous lack of vitamin B12.

Both folate and folic acid have the same effect on the body. Consuming the recommended daily intake of Vitamin B9 may help to reduce the risk of NTDs, folate deficiency anemia, and certain types of cancers.


How would you incorporate folate and folic acid in your diet? Let us know in the comments section below!

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