What is folic acid?

Written by

Lauren Dobischok
16 May, 2022

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Folic acid, often referred to as vitamin B9 or vitamin B11, is an indispensable component of the vitamin B complex. It plays a central role in cell division and growth and works hand in hand with vitamin B12 to promote the formation of red blood cells. Did you know that folic acid deficiency is quite common in western countries? Could it be that you are also affected? Read on to learn more about the crucial importance of this vitamin and how you can make sure you get enough of it.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, more specifically vitamins B9 and B11. It is a vitamin that is usually obtained through food as there is no production of folic acid in the body itself. Folic acid is important for the production of white and red blood cells, nerve cells, and the development of the nervous system of an unborn baby. It also helps your body’s immune system and has a positive effect on your memory, learning performance, and mood. Folic acid leaves your body in small amounts through the urine (Apotheek.nl, 2018).

What foods contain folic acid?

There are several foods that contain folic acid:

  • Meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Fortified bread
  • Whole-wheat products
  • Green vegetables
  • Fruit

What does folic acid do?

Folic acid is important for the proper functioning of your body for several reasons. The vitamin is important for:

  • The formation of red and white blood cells and oxygen transport throughout the body
  • Normal cell division
  • Immune system support
  • Fetal growth during pregnancy
  • Building blocks for digestion
  • Protecting the skin
  • Healing wounds

Folic Acid During Pregnancy

It is recommended that women who want to have children take folic acid as a supplement before conception to prevent neural tube defects. This also applies to women who have just become pregnant. This is because folic acid is very important in forming the neural tube of a developing baby, and not obtaining enough puts you at higher risk of serious birth defects.. Once you are pregnant, it is advisable to take folic acid daily during the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

What is a normal folic acid level?

The reference value of folic acid has been set between 5.0 and 35.0 nmol/l.

How much folic acid do you need per day?

The average daily requirement for folic acid varies per person. The ‘Reference Intake’ (RI), or the average requirement per day, is as follows (Nutrition Centre):

Average requirement per day:

300 micrograms, adults

400 micrograms if you wish to become pregnant, are pregnant or breast-feed

60 micrograms, children from 6 to 11 months

85 micrograms, children aged 1 to 3 years

150 micrograms, children aged 4 to 8 years

225 micrograms, children aged 9 to 13 years

300 micrograms, children aged 14 to 17 years

Can too much folic acid harm you?

Getting too much folic acid through your diet is not harmful as it is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body does not store it and will excrete any excess through urine. 

The cause of low folic acid levels

There are several possible reasons for a folic acid level that is too low. For example, having an unhealthy diet lacking green vegetables, meat, dairy, fruit, and whole grain products. Drinking alcohol too often can also be a cause of folic acid deficiency. Long-term use of certain medications can also cause a low folic acid level. This includes medicines for diseases such as rheumatism, epilepsy, and psoriasis.

Are there any diseases that cause folic acid deficiency?

Intestinal diseases are sometimes linked to a folic acid deficiency. An example of this is Crohn’s disease, an intestinal disease in which the body is unable to absorb sufficient folic acid from food (Jeroen Bosch Hospital, 2022).

What health effects can a folic acid deficiency have?

A (serious) deficiency of folic acid in the body can lead to various symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Intestinal problems
  • Anemia
  • Neural tube birth defects

Why test for folic acid?

Are you curious about your folic acid levels? Perhaps because you want to become pregnant, are pregnant, or suffer from complaints that can be caused by a folic acid deficiency? Then it is useful to test yourself. This is possible with the Homed-IQ’s Vitamin Deficiency Test. This test not only gives you insight into your folic acid, but also measures your vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels.

How often should you test your folic acid level?

There is no recommended frequency when it comes to measuring folic acid levels. It is possible to perform a test at home at any time. If your folic acid value is too low or too high, you can take another test in a few months.

Is Homed-IQ’s folic acid test reliable?

Yes, your test sample – like all of Homed-IQ’s home tests – is processed and analyzed in a certified laboratory. These labs are also used by general practitioners, hospitals and other medical specialists.

Is this folic acid test an alternative to a blood test through my GP?

Yes, a doctor would use the same test to determine whether you have a folic acid deficiency or not. The difference is that you can take the Homed-IQ self-test from the comfort of your own home, anonymously and at a time of your choosing.

How does the Homed-IQ folic acid test process work?

The test process for all Homed-IQ health tests is very simple. First, a blood sample is obtained via a finger prick and deposited into the collection tube. Then, use the supplied transport bag and the return envelope to send your sample to the lab. Your results will be ready within a few days.

What can I do if my folic acid level is too low?

If your folic acid level is too low, it is advisable to take a closer look at your diet. Try to eat a varied and healthy diet every day, including foods that contain folic acid. If you are trying to get pregnant, or are already pregnant, it is advisable to take folic acid pills.

About the author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator currently living in the Netherlands. Originally from Canada, she completed a Research Master’s in Health Sciences at the Netherlands Institute of Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam (NIHES) with a specialisation in epidemiology. Prior to her master’s degree, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and empowers people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren works as a Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with physicians and scientists on medical devices for Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.