Folic acid is one of the B-complex vitamins.
Folic acid, long unheralded even by health food enthusiasts, is now in the nutritional limelight. A series of recent studies suggest that this B vitamin may be a major player in warding off heart attacks, strokes, and certain common cancers. Often called folacin or folate (its biologically active form), it also is well established as critically important in the prevention of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects, if taken before pregnancy and in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
The federal government has always told healthy consumers to obtain all of their essential nutrients from food rather than supplement pills. But that advice has become harder to follow for almost 25 percent of the U.S. population, namely women of childbearing years. This is because the U.S. Public Health Service is now recommending that the 58 million who have the potential to become pregnant consume more than twice their Recommended Daily Allowance of folic acid. In addition, studies show that the synthetic form of folic acid is more helpful in the prevention of nueral tube defects. The body absorbs folic acid more easily from vitamin supplements and fortified foods than it does the folate from food. Cooking and storage also can destroy some of the folate in foods.