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Background

Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Folic acid is well-tolerated in amounts found in fortified foods and supplements. Sources include cereals, baked goods, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (bananas, melons, lemons), legumes, yeast, mushrooms, organ meat (beef liver, kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice. Folic acid is frequently used in combination with other B vitamins in vitamin B complex formulations.

Folic acid supplements are effective for increasing folate levels in blood and decreasing symptoms associated with low folate levels. Folic acid supplementation, with and without other B vitamins, reduce levels of homocysteine in blood (a cardiovascular risk factor).

Folic acid supplements are suggested for use in women of childbearing age in order to prevent neural tube defects. Neural tube defect risk appears to have decreased in many countries since folic acid fortification of flour and cereals.

Folic acid is also of interest with respect to cognitive enhancement, cancer, psychiatric illnesses, and cardiovascular conditions, although conclusions may not be drawn for many of these uses at this time. Some concern exists with respect to increased folic acid intake masking symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, especially in the elderly population.