Folate is a water-soluble vitamin from the B group and was discovered in 1941. When produced synthetically it is referred to as folic acid.Since our bodies cannot produce this vitamin, we rely on getting enough of it from the food we eat.
Folate is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells. The recommended daily intake for adults is around 300 micrograms. Folate is especially important during rapid growth (e.g. in the early stages of pregnancy) which is why women require significantly more folate before and during pregnancy. Since on average we consume a maximum of 200 micrograms through food, pregnant women are recommended to take an additional 400 micrograms of folic acid in tablet form per day. It is best to begin taking extra folic acid three months before a planned pregnancy because folate is especially important in the first few weeks of pregnancy. It is during this period that the nervous system develops and the neural tube which surrounds the sensitive spinal cord closes. Studies have shown that a high level of folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects, specifically spina bifida, by 70-100%.
Getting enough folic acid isn’t just important during pregnancy. Various studies indicate that folic acid can also make a positive contribution in other areas including depression, allergies, hyperactivity, dementia, cardiovascular disease, skin ageing and sperm quality.