Organic compound essential to animal growth and health and needed by bacteria as a growth factor. Part of the vitamin B complex, folic acid is necessary for synthesis of nucleic acids and formation of the heme component of hemoglobin in red blood cells. To prevent neural tube defects in babies, it should ideally be taken by women starting at least a month before conception. Dietary folate sources include leafy and dark green vegetables, citrus fruits, cereals, beans, poultry, and egg yolks, but free folic acid is available only in supplements. Low intake leads to folic acid deficiency anemia.
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