What Are the Health Benefits of Folic Acid?

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects in a baby’s brain and spinal cord, and it helps prevent miscarriage, according to WebMD. In addition, folic acid prevents the risk of cervical and colon cancers. In some cases, people use it to prevent heart attack, memory loss and hearing loss related to aging.

Also referred to as folate, folic acid is a B vitamin that may be combined with other B vitamins for a wide range of health benefits, including the management of muscular degeneration, eye diseases, osteoporosis, depression, vitiligo and nerve pain, states WebMD. In some cases, folic acid is recommended for AIDS patients. While some people apply the substance to the gum to treat infections, others use it to counter the harmful effects of treatments such as methotrexate and lometrexol.

Pregnant women are perhaps the major beneficiaries of folic acid. Doctors recommend taking the nutrient as early as possible in pregnancy, as birth defects occur in fetuses in the first three weeks or one month of pregnancy. While it may be taken as a supplement, the nutrient is found in foods such as fortified cereals, enriched bread, pasta, and rice. Legumes such as kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans and lentils also contain generous levels of folic acid, and so do green leafy vegetables, reports the New York State Department of Health.

It is normally considered a vitamin, but it is also used as a medication to treat certain types of anemia. It does not cure vitamin B-12 deficiency, notes Drugs.com. Folic acid should not be taken by people with kidney disease or alcoholics. Possible side effects include digestive issues, sleep problems and mood disturbances.