Folic acid is important to your health, even if you’re not pregnant or trying to conceive.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body make DNA and red blood cells. It occurs naturally as folate in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, and in nuts, beans and certain fruits. Folic acid is also found in multivitamins and fortified foods, including bread and cereal.
Getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily is a crucial part of prenatal health – folic acid helps prevent brain and spine defects, including spina bifida, in infants. However, folic acid keeps your health, regardless of your age. In fact, after menopause, women still need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to stay healthy, according to the federal Office on Women’s Health. Here’s why:
- Getting enough folic acid can help prevent anemia. “Folic acid helps produce red blood cells, which transport oxygen to organs and tissues,” said Rachel Anderson, DO, primary care physician at Archbold Primary Care. “Without enough folic acid, you are at risk for folate-deficiency anemia.”
- Many pregnancies are unplanned. “The birth defects that can occur as a result of folic acid deficiency develop before many women know they’re pregnant,” Dr. Anderson said.
- You can void a variety of symptoms. If you don’t consume a sufficient amount of folic acid, you may develop mouth sores or see changes in your hair or skin color, the National Institutes of Health reports.
Another Reason to Go Greens
Spinach and other leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of folate, but that’s not the only reason to include them in your diet. Research from Arizona State University found that these veggies, which are high in nitrates, can reduce women’s risk of heart disease after menopause, when women are most likely to develop heart disease.
Nitrates can turn into nitric oxide in the body, and nitric oxide expands blood vessels. Wider blood vessels lead to lower blood pressure. Getting more nitrates from vegetables is important for postmenopausal women because they have much less estrogen to prompt nitric oxide production than before menopause.
Experiencing symptoms that may be tied to folic acid deficiency? Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. Find one at archbold.org/providers.