Folic acid is a crucial nutrient during pregnancy, it is needed to support the development of the nervous system, the growth and reproduction of new cells and the formation of red blood cells. Folic acid is expecially important during early development stages of pregnancy to help form the neural tube. Making sure you have sufficient levels of folic acid helps to prevent major birth defects of the baby's brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida).
Confused in the supplement isle between folic acid and folate? You're not alone! Both Folate and Folic Acid are a form of the vitamin B9. Although the names are often used interchangeably, there is in fact a distinct difference between the two.
Folate is the naturally occurring and active form of B9 that you will find in food sources like Spinach. Folate in it's active form, also sometimes listed as 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), is the most easily absorbed form.
Folic Acid is the synthetic form of B9 (less easily absorbed and NOT found naturally in food sources). This synthetic form (Folic Acid) is found in supplements and vitamin fortified foods such as flour, pasta, and breakfast cereal. In order for you to absorb Folic Acid, your body needs to convert it the active form (Folate/5-MTHF). This process of conversion is slow and ineffective and can result in unmetabolized Folic Acid in your blood stream.
Out of the two forms, Folate vs Folic Acid, when purchasing supplements look for the active form to ensure your body is absorbing as much as possible. The active form will often be labelled as Folate of 5-MTHF on supplement bottles.
If you are trying to get pregnant, the CDC recommends you start take every day for at least a month before pregnancy and every single day when you become pregnant. The Recommend dosage during child bearing years for women is 400mcg per day. When you become pregnant the RDA is 600mcg per day.