Folic acid – the cell vitamin: Important for our core functions

from Mag. Margit Weichselbraun
on 15.03.2023
Folic acid – the cell vitamin: Important for our core functions Folic acid – the cell vitamin: Important for our core functions

Folic acid*. Whenever our body is growing, thriving or renewing, water-soluble B vitamins are concerned in the process. Superhero powers, but don’t let their reputation for strength deceive you. Because behind the strong facade they are actually surprisingly fragile. Light, storage, and heat are all processes that do a lot of damage to the folic acid content of food. Therefore it is all the more important to monitor your own folic acid balance – something that is worth bearing in mind not only by expectant mothers and women who want to have children.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid (also called folate, vitamin B9, vitamin B11, or vitamin M) is a water-soluble vitamin that belongs to the family of B vitamins. Because our body cannot make the vitamin itself, we need to absorb it via our food.

Is folate the same as folic acid or is there a difference?*

Folate and folic acid are not the same thing. While folate compounds (= folates) are naturally found in many foods, folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin. The advantage of folic acid is that it is more stable compared to folates and can be consumed almost 100% on an empty stomach. However, in order to use the folic acid, it must first be converted into folate in our organism. A step that in rare cases – genetically-related – can be negatively affected. When supplementing, people who have this disorder (MTHFR deficiency) should be careful to use folic acid supplements in the form of activated folate.

*Note: Because it has become common parlance, in the following article, for the sake of simplicity, the term folate is not used, but folic acid or vitamin B9.

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Effect & function: Why does the body need folic acid?

Amino acid metabolism, cell division & cell neoplasm

Folic acid (vitamin B9) generally operates more inside the cell. This water-soluble vitamin has a key position in amino acid metabolism, cell division and cell regeneration, helping our bodies to grow and regenerate.

“Cell division at top speed” occurs especially when the white and red blood cells are being formed. So it’s no surprise that folic acid contributes to normal blood formation and to the normal functioning of the immune system.

Mind, mental well-being & sleep

The role of folic acid in our mental well-being is less well known. But it is true that even peaceful sleep can be assured with enough folic acid. Thus, water-soluble B vitamin supports the normal functions of our mind. At the same time, it acts as a form of freshness generator by helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue.

Homocysteine metabolism

Folic acid also plays a key role in homocysteinemetabolism: Homocysteine is a protein that is produced as a by-product in the degradation and conversion of the body’s own amino acid methionine. Usually, homocysteine is disposed of relatively quickly by the body. The substance is either recycled by the liver and kidneys and converted into another amino acid or the kidneys excrete the accumulating homocysteine. Folic acid interferes with this process by contributing to normal homocysteine metabolism along with other micronutrients.

Sources: Foods with folic acid

The word folic acid derives from the Latin “folium” or “leaf”. Accordingly, a lot of folic acid (= food folate) is also found in dark green (leaf) vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, chard or Brussels sprouts. Whole grains, legumes, eggs and liver are also good suppliers of folic acid. An overview of common foods containing folic acid can be found in the following table:

Folic acid content in μg

Per 100g of food




Brussels sprouts




Cereal products

Edible bran




Oat flakes










Butter beans






Meat and meat products

Pork liver


Liver paste


Beef, chicken

10 - 12

Dairy products and egg



Brie, 50% fat.i.Tr.




Table: Selected values from the Prodi 7.0 nutrition software

Although folic acid is naturally found in many foods (= food folate), you should target foods rich in folic acid to ensure a good supply. This is because the sensitivity of food folates to storage, processing, water and heat as well as their partially poor usability work against us. According to the experts, on average only about 50% of the food folate can be reasonably exploited.

Testing folic acid in the blood

If you want to know the exact state of your folic acid supply, a laboratory blood test is recommended. Here, the following reference values apply for women as well as men:

Laboratory value folic acid


> 5.38 ng/ml

Normal range of folic acid

Table: Laboratory values according to GANZImmun Diagnostics AG

Recommended daily intake – How much vitamin B9 does the body need per day?

The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends 300 μg of folate equivalent daily for men and women aged 13 years and olderOther values apply during pregnancy and lactationwhere the daily intake recommendation increases to 550 μg and 450 μg folate equivalent, respectively. In addition, women with a specific desire to  have children should begin to stock up on folic acid (additional 400 μg daily) at an early stage using a special preparation.


Time of day: What is the best time to take it orally? Evening? Morning?

In the case of folic acid, it generally doesn’t matter what time of day you take it. For optimal usability, however, it is important to ensure that the stomach is as empty as possible before taking it.

How to take folic acid correctly?

Folic acid should be taken with plenty of liquid before a meal. It does not matter whether you use the product in the morning, at noon or in the evening. However, for optimal usability, the stomach should be as empty as possible when it is taken.

For how long should you take folic acid?

How long a folic acid preparation should be used depends on the individual supply situation, the reason for the intake and the folic acid dosage. Your doctor will be happy to advise you on this question.

Vitamin B12 and folic acid & their synergy

Vitamin B12 and folic acid are two water-soluble vitamins, both of which belong to the B vitamin family. In the body, these two team players work together in homocysteine metabolism. Homocysteine is a metabolic by-product of the essential amino acid methionine, which is now often the subject of scientific research into the heart and vessels. The two team players also work together in the case of blood formation and psychological functions. In addition, vitamin B12 and folic acid demonstrate true freshness regeneration qualities by helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue.

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Folic acid dosage

The ideal folic acid dosage depends on the supply situation and the reason for supplementation. In the context of blood analysis, an exact picture can be made of the respective folic acid supply and, if necessary, the folic acid dosage can be determined based on this.

When is folic acid demand increased?

During pregnancy and breastfeeding

Mothers who are expecting and breastfeeding have increased needs. This also applies to folic acid, the daily recommendations for which increase to 550 μg folic acid equivalent during pregnancy or to 450 μg folic acid equivalent during breastfeeding. As soon as a woman decides to try for a baby, she should start supplementing with at least 400 μg of folic acid daily in addition to a folate-rich diet. This is because good care is especially important around the 28th day of pregnancy – a time when many women don’t even know they are pregnant.

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Conclusion: Folic acid is with us from our very first moments of life to the end of our days and is present whenever we grow and renew. It is also involved in our immune defences, blood formation, homocysteine metabolism and psychological functions. Because external storage and preparation processes can greatly decrease the folic acid content of food, each of us should pay particular attention to our folic acid supply.

Frequently asked questions about folic acid

Folic acid is also called vitamin B9 or, rarely, vitamin B11.

Folic acid is not just important for our body, it is essential. Since our organism cannot form folic acid itself, we must acquire the vitamin in sufficient amounts via our food.

Particularly large amounts of folic acid (in the form of food folate) are found in yeast, liver and in wheatgerm or bran. Dark green leafy vegetables, cabbage, whole grains, egg yolks and nuts are also good suppliers of folic acid.

Cherries, strawberries, grapes, oranges and mango all contain a lot of folic acid. However, vegetables usually contain more folic acid than fruit. The fact that fruit is usually consumed raw and the folic acid is thus better preserved is definitely a plus point when it comes to fruit.

Both forms have advantages and disadvantages: Folate is the natural form of folic acid and can be used in the same way by our body, but it is sensitive to storage, processing and heat. Man-made folic acid, on the other hand, is much more stable, but must first be converted into active folate by our organism.

Folic acid plays a key role in all the growth processes in the body – especially cell division, blood formation and amino acid production. It also supports our immune system, contributes to normal homocysteine metabolism and normal mental function.

Further reading

Shulpekova Y., et al. 2021. The Concept of Folic Acid in Health and Disease. Molecules. 2021 Jun 18;26(12):3731. doi: 10.3390/molecules26123731.

GANZImmun Diagnostics AG. Accessed September 12, 2021. https://www.ganzimmun.de

Atta C.A.M., et al. 2016. Global Birth Prevalence of Spina Bifida by Folic Acid Fortification Status: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Public Health. 2016 Jan;106(1):e24-34. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302902. Epub 2015 Nov 12.

Mikronährstoffcoach:https://www.mikronaehrstoffcoach.com/de/at/mikronaehrstoffe/micronutrient.folsaeure.html, Access:

Ebara S. 2017. Nutritional role of folate. Congenit Anom (Kyoto). 2017 Sep;57(5):138-141. doi: 10.1111/cga.12233. Epub 2017 Jul 25.

Birkenberger A., et al. 2019. Folic Acid Intake Among Women in Berlin According to Their Socio-Economic Status. Z Geburtshilfe Neonatol. 2019 Aug;223(4):213-220.  doi: 10.1055/a-0750-6376. Epub 2018 Nov 16.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung: https://www.dge.de/wissenschaft/faqs/folat/, Access:

Kaye A.D. et al. 2020. Folic Acid Supplementation in Patients with Elevated Homocysteine Levels. Adv Ther. 2020 Oct;37(10):4149-4164. doi: 10.1007/s12325-020-01474-z. Epub 2020 Aug 26

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