Folate, forms of which are known as folic acid and vitamin B9, is one of the B vitamins. The recommended daily intake level of folate is 400 micrograms from foods or dietary supplements. Folic acid is used to treat anemia caused by folic acid deficiency. It is also used as a supplement by women during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in the baby. Low levels in early pregnancy are believed to be the cause of more than half of babies born with neural tube defects. More than 50 countries use fortification of certain foods with folic acid as a measure to decrease the rate of NTDs in the population. Long term supplementation is also associated with small reductions in the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It may be taken by mouth or by injection.
There are no common side effects. It is not known whether high doses over a long period of time are of concern. There are concerns that large amounts of folic acid might hide vitamin B12 deficiency. Folic acid is essential for the body to make DNA, RNA, and metabolise amino acids which are required for cell division. As humans cannot make folic acid, it is required from the diet, making it an essential vitamin.