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June 28, 2016

Folic acid: An essential vitamin

Folic acid (also called folate and vitamin B9) is widely recognized for its vital role in preventing neural tube defects in newborns. But did you know that it provides other health benefits as well?

The pregnancy vitamin 

Vitamin B9 is essential for the body in several ways. For example, it contributes to the production of red blood cells and promotes the development of the neural tube (brain and spinal cord) in the fetus. Common food sources include green vegetables, beans and fortified cereals. Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it is not stored in the body. That is why we must meet our daily requirements for it through diet or, when necessary, through supplements

Good to know!
Some substances, such as alcohol, tobacco and certain drugs, can increase a person’s need for folic acid. If you are taking any medication on a regular basis and trying to conceive, talk to your pharmacist. He or she can determine if or when you should stop your medication to avoid compromising the development of your baby.

How much folic acid do I need?

The recommended intake of folic acid varies according to a person’s age and health condition. In Canada, people 14 years old and over should generally get 0.4 mg of B9 every day. These requirements increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding.  

In a clinical practice guideline issued in May 2015, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada made the following recommendations for women who are pregnant or wish to conceive. 

  Low risk* Moderate risk* High risk*
At least 3 months before conception

Maintain a balanced diet of folate-rich foods
0.4 mg daily folic acid supplement

Maintain a balanced diet of folate-rich foods
1 mg daily folic acid supplement

Maintain a balanced diet of folate-rich foods
4 mg daily folic acid supplement

0 to 12 weeks gestational age
13 to 40 weeks gestational age

Maintain a balanced diet of folate-rich foods
0.4  to 1 mg daily folic acid supplement

Maintain a balanced diet of folate-rich foods
0.4  to 1 mg daily folic acid supplement

4 to 6 weeks after childbirth or throughout breastfeeding period

Low risk: Woman and/or male partner with no personal or family history of folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies.
Moderate risk: Woman and/or male partner with a personal history of folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies, a family history of neural tube defects (NTD), woman with type 1 or 2 diabetes taking a teratogenic drug (a substance that can cause congenital defects) or with a compromised gastrointestinal absorption efficiency. 
High risk: Woman and/or male partner with a personal history of NTD or woman who has had a pregnancy involving NTD. 

Are you pregnant or trying to conceive? Your family pharmacists are authorized to prescribe prenatal folic acid supplements, vitamins and minerals to most women. Speak with a pharmacist to learn if this option is available to you and to determine the daily folic acid dose you need.

To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here

Getting your folic acid 

There are many good food sources of folic acid. Since vitamin B9 is sensitive to heat and light, special care must be taken when storing and cooking these foods. Here are a few examples of folate-rich foods: 

•    Asparagus 
•    Beets 
•    Broccoli 
•    Brussels sprouts 
•    Enriched pasta 
•    Flax seeds 
•    Green peas 
•    Legumes 
•    Liver (lamb, veal, pork) 
•    Orange juice 
•    Poultry giblets 
•    Romaine lettuce 
•    Soybeans 
•    Spinach 
•    Sunflower seeds 
•    Watercress 

Good to know! 
In North America, white flour, cornmeal and pasta are enriched with folic acid. This public health policy was introduced in 1998 to increase dietary intake of folic acid by pregnant women in order to help reduce the rate of neural tube defects. 

Folic acid for everyone?

Certain studies suggest that folic acid may play a role in preventing other diseases as well.

A sufficient intake of folate may help prevent a type of anemia involving abnormally large red blood cells.

Cardiovascular diseases
Many factors increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, including elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Folic acid is thought to lower the level of homocysteine and enhance blood vessel dilation, in turn reducing the risk of stroke and other heart problems. 

Folic acid may help protect the body from certain forms of cancer. 

Be sure to speak to a health professional before taking any type of supplement.

Pharmacy services 

Do you have questions about vitamins, minerals and supplements? Speak with your family pharmacist for expert advice! 


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The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.