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What is Folic Acid?

March 17th, 2022 | 6 min. read

By Jill Hickey, RDN

We’ve all heard this advice before: “If you’re trying to conceive, take folic acid.” But why? And what is folic acid? How does it help? Is it different than folate? So. Many. Questions.

But don’t fear! I’m here to answer all your folic acid queries, so you understand why it’s as important as we nutritionists (and of course, your doctor) say it is.

Skip to a specific section:

What is folic acid?

The short answer? It is a form of the essential B vitamin, B-9.

Maybe you’ve heard of “folate” or “methylfolate” as well? Those are also forms of the same vitamin. Most likely, you’ve probably seen the words folic acid most often – that’s because it’s the synthetic, stable version of B-9. It’s what you typically find in vitamins and is used to fortify foods like cereal, pasta, and bread.

Once consumed, our body then converts folic acid to folate. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin, found in whole foods (not fortified). And lastly, methylfolate is the more bioavailable (most absorbable) form of B-9.

It is especially used for men and women who have trouble absorbing the former two or have higher requirements due to specific medical needs.

Folic acid, explained by a fertility nutritionist:

Why is folic acid good for you?

Folic acid is good for everyone - even those who aren’t trying to conceive! It is necessary for DNA synthesis of red blood cells, proteins, and the nervous system, and it also assists with cellular growth, division, and reproduction. Basically, it helps produce new cells and helps keep them healthy.

If you are #TTC, folic acid is a must. It plays a key role in helping prevent birth defects of the brain and spine (think: spina bifida). Because these neural tube defects develop early in pregnancy (when cells are rapidly dividing and even before some women even know they are pregnant), sufficient intake even before pregnancy has been shown to have protective benefits and reduce risks.

Additionally, it can help to prevent miscarriage, preterm delivery, and maternal anemia. These are some of the major reasons we urge women to take a prenatal the entire #TTC journey.

How much folic acid should I take?

The recommended daily allowance of folic acid for any woman of child-bearing age (who is not trying to conceive) is 400 mcg. This can easily be met with a balanced diet, including dark leafy greens, fruits, beans, and grains fortified in folic acid.

The needs of those who are pregnant or trying to conceive are higher (600-1000 mcg/day) and can be met with a good prenatal, and of course, a well-balanced diet.

When should I start taking folic acid?

Note: We believe it’s best to have the vitamin (we specifically recommend 800mcg) in your system for three months prior to pregnancy, then continue to take it throughout your pregnancy and postpartum period.

If you find out you’re pregnant and have not been taking a prenatal with folic acid, don’t worry! Just start as soon as you find out, and you’ll still be giving your little one a better chance at proper development.

What else can you do to boost your fertility?

Get Your Fertility-Boosting Nutrition Plan

What foods have folate?

In addition to taking a prenatal designed for women who are trying to conceive, you should try to consume folate in its natural form. The most folate rich foods include the following:

  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Citrus fruits
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • Eggs
  • Beets
  • Avocado
  • Bananas

Is folic acid good for men too?

Absolutely! We all know you can’t make a baby without sperm - and it turns out, studies have shown that a diet rich in folate/folic acid may benefit men’s sperm and help reduce chances of birth defects.

So if you’re trying to conceive with a partner, it’s a good idea for you both to take a folic acid supplement (prenatal vitamin).

The bottom line?

Folic acid, folate, and methylfolate are all forms of the essential B vitamin you need in your diet and/or vitamin regimen, not only for its cellular growth benefits, but for the healthy development of your growing baby.

Good luck on your fertility journey from all of us here at Illume Fertility! 

Need help picking the perfect prenatal vitamin?

Read Our Guide Now

More Fertility Nutrition Resources


Jill Hickey, RDN

Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been providing nutrition guidance to children and adults for over 20 years. She currently supports both PCOS and fertility patients at Illume Fertility with her broad experience and unique perspective. Jill is passionate about helping people work towards their healthiest selves by providing evidence-based, sustainable, personalized diet and lifestyle guidance.