What vitamin is folic acid

Folic Acid Products - When Are They Useful?

What is the difference between folic acid and folate?

Folate is the umbrella term for a water-soluble B vitamin that, in the form of various folate compounds, contributes to numerous growth and development processes in the body.

The synthetic form of this vitamin is called folic acid. Folic acid is more resistant to heat, oxygen and light than food folate, which is why it is added to food industrially. Folic acid can also be better utilized by the body. So-called "folic acid equivalents" are used to make these different compounds comparable.

One microgram of folate equivalent corresponds to one microgram of food folate or 0.5 micrograms of synthetic folic acid (when taken on an empty stomach) or 0.6 micrograms of folic acid (in combination with other foods).

What is behind the advertising for folic acid products?

The advertising often suggests that folate deficiency is widespread in Germany. In fact, the recommended intake of 300 µg folate equivalents per day is not achieved in a large proportion of adults in Germany. But an undersupply does not immediately mean that there is a deficiency. A real folate deficiency could only rarely be proven in Germany.

In order to prevent an undersupply of folate, it is recommended to ensure a balanced diet rich in folate with lots of vegetables and whole grain products. Before and at the beginning of pregnancy, it is advisable to use folic acid products in order not to risk any developmental damage to the fetus.

In addition to folic acid products for pregnant women, there are also products for the cardiovascular system in supermarkets, drug stores and pharmacies. Advertising claims such as "contributes to normal blood formation", "has a function in cell division" and "contributes to normal homocysteine ​​metabolism" are correct, but folate-rich foods can do that too. Moreover, these statements are only about maintaining normal functions, not about treating changes caused by illness. This is the task of corresponding drugs, for which the manufacturers not only have to provide proof of effectiveness before official approval, but also have to prove the safety of the product.

What should I look out for when taking folic acid as well?

For safety reasons, the regular intake of synthetic folic acid (from fortified foods and dietary supplements) should never exceed 1 mg per day in adults. (High-dose) folic acid tablets should still not be taken without consulting a doctor. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends using dietary supplements no more than 200 µg folic acid daily to include (people aged 15 and over). For Women who want to have children and in the first weeks of pregnancy the BfR recommends to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NRD) 400 µg folic acid per day.

In addition to the undersupply of folate, an oversupply of folic acid is also viewed critically, as harmful effects are possible. There is also the risk, especially in older people, that symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency are masked. Folic acid can alleviate the anemia (anemia) caused by a lack of vitamin B12, but not the permanent nerve damage that is often discovered too late.

What does the body need folate for?

With the help of folate, nucleic acids are built, i.e. the building blocks of the cells' information stores. In phases of rapid growth - for example during early childhood, puberty or pregnancy - folate ensures cell division and growth in the body. Folate is therefore indispensable for every cell in the body, from muscle to nerve cells.

Daily intake should be based on current recommendations 300 micrograms of folate equivalents lie. However, it is often taken up less, as the National Consumption Study II has shown.

The consequences of a chronic folate deficiency are disorders in the formation of blood cells (anemia). There can also be problems with DNA synthesis and, as a result, with cell division. This in turn leads to problems in the digestive tract, among other things.

Important for pregnancy!

An undersupply of folate during pregnancy is particularly problematic. Pregnant and breastfeeding women have a particularly high need for folate, which can hardly be met through food. An intake (from food and dietary supplements) of 550 µg (pregnant women) or 450 µg (breastfeeding women) is recommended.

Inadequate care for the expectant mother at the beginning of a pregnancy - even before she knows about it - can lead to severe damage and deformities in the fetus, for example neural tube defects (spina bifida or "open back") as well as cleft jaw and palate. Therefore, if you want to have children, 400 µg folic acid should be taken daily in tablet form four weeks before pregnancy and during the first trimester of pregnancy. In the first few months of pregnancy, a combination with iodine can also be useful.

What is not a problem with a planned pregnancy cannot be implemented with an unplanned pregnancy. That is why young women are generally advised to eat a diet rich in folates. It is recommended that you become pregnant unplanned or started taking folic acid shortly before conception in the first trimester of pregnancy 800 µg folic acid to take as a dietary supplement - preferably in consultation with your gynecologist.

Can I cover my daily requirement with food?

The daily requirement for healthy, non-pregnant people can be covered by a balanced, folate-rich diet. Folate is found in animal and plant foods. Leafy vegetables in particular (for example spinach and lettuce) have a high content. Legumes, potatoes, tomatoes, oranges (juice), strawberries and raspberries, sprouts, liver, eggs and whole grain products are also good sources. Folate is soluble in water and very sensitive to heat. It is therefore advisable to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, preferably a handful five times a day. If it is being prepared, care should be taken to wash and steam the vegetables gently and not keep them warm for too long.

In addition to the natural occurrence of folate in foods, there are a number of foods that are fortified with synthetic folic acid. Table salt enriched with folic acid and iodine is also available. However, an uncontrolled supply of many fortified products can be problematic. Therefore, if at all, salt should be viewed as an additional option for folic acid intake, as it is a more easily manageable intake.

Cover your folate requirements with five servings (one serving = a handful) of vegetables and fruit a day.

If you want to become pregnant, start taking folic acid tablets (400 µg / day) early (at least 4 weeks before the start of pregnancy).

These vitamin compounds are approved for folic acid in Germany and other EU countries in food supplements in accordance with EU Directive 2002/46 / EC, Annex II (version dated July 5, 2017):

  • Pteroyl monoglutamic acid
  • Calcium L-methylfolate
  • (6S) -5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid, glucosamine salt



BfR (2021): Updated maximum quantity proposals for vitamins and minerals in food supplements and fortified foods
Opinion No. 009/2021 of March 15, 2021

BfR (2021): Maximum amount proposals for folic acid in foods including food supplements

European Commission: EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods, accessed on April 3, 2020

Biesalski, H ../ Bischoff, S./Puchstein/C. (2010): Nutritional Medicine. Georg Thieme Verlag, Stuttgart / New York

Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (2015): Questions and answers on folate and folic acid, accessed on April 3, 2020

Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (2014): Iodine, Folate / Folic Acid and Pregnancy, accessed on April 3, 2020

DGE (2020): D-A-CH reference values ​​for nutrient intake, 2nd edition, 6th updated edition 2020

German Nutrition Society (2018): Selected questions and answers on folate, accessed on April 3, 2020

German Nutrition Society (2006): Strategies for improving the folate supply in Germany - benefits and risks, accessed on April 3, 2020

Max Rubner Institute (2008): National Consumption Study II. Results Report Part 2. The nationwide survey on the nutrition of adolescents and adults, accessed on April 3, 2020

Schlieper, C. (2010): Basic questions of nutrition. Verlag Handwerk und Technik: Hamburg

Koletzko B et al. (2018): Diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy - recommendations for action by the nationwide network Gesund ins Leben. Obstetrics, Gynecology 78: 1–22, accessed on April 3, 2020


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