Goodbye to folic acid deficiency?

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Despite the lack of deficiency, 1 in 5 women of childbearing age did not carry in their blood the amount of folate (the natural form of folic acid) recommended to prevent birth defects, the benefit for which the vitamin is best known.

So while many men, the elderly, and children may have a lot of folic acid, women of childbearing age often don't have enough, and should continue to take supplements, study author Cynthia Colapinto of the Children's Hospital told Reuters Health.

Folate is the natural form of the B vitamin, found in foods such as spinach, asparagus, dried beans and peas, and orange juice; folic acid is the synthetic form used in vitamin supplements and added to certain "fortified" foods, including wheat flour and breakfast cereals.

Experts say that women need extra amounts of the vitamin to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects - birth defects of the brain or spine, including spina bifida.

As a result, in the late 1990s, the U.S. and Canada mandated that folic acid be added to products such as flour to help prevent neural tube defects. It's also added to enriched cereal, pasta, corn meal and other grains. Since this change, the rate of neural tube defects in Canada has dropped by 46 percent.

The recommended daily intake of folate from all sources is 150 micrograms (mcg) for children ages 1 to 3; 200 mcg for ages 4 to 8; and 300 mcg for ages 9 to 13. Older teens and adult women and men are advised to get 400 mcg.

Some research suggests high levels of folic acid could worsen pre-existing cancers, or mask a deficiency of vitamin B12, which can lead to neurological problems.

The findings largely agree with those from a recent survey of more than 35,000 Canadians that estimated how much folate and folic acid individuals were consuming in foods, and how much additional folic acid they were getting from vitamin supplements. In that report, researchers also found that few Canadians are now getting too little of the B vitamin, raising the question of whether children and men need to get additional folic acid from vitamins.

Do you take a folic acid supplement?
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