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The #1 Cause of Needing to Take Supplements, Say Experts

Folic acid is crucial for the development of a healthy brain.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Recent studies have found that supplements, by and large, can be a rip-off. Take the hallowed multivitamin, a part of millions of daily routines since childhood. In 2019, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine evaluated studies involving almost half a million people and determined that multivitamins don't lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline or early death. Don't waste your money on multivitamins, they advised; get the vitamins and minerals you need from food. 

That's a very good policy in any situation. However, there is one scenario in which taking a supplement (or a multivitamin containing it) is necessary, even recommended, experts say. Read on to find out what it is—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

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The #1 Cause of Needing to Take Supplements

folic acid
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Today, most experts agree that you should get your essential vitamins and minerals from your daily diet. However, they universally say taking a supplement is crucial for certain groups of people. 

That recommendation involves folate (vitamin B-9), known as folic acid in its synthetic form.

"For most people, it's best to get folate from food. A balanced diet usually provides all you need," says the Mayo Clinic. "However, folic acid supplements are recommended for women who are planning to become pregnant, could become pregnant, are pregnant or are breast-feeding."

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What Does Folic Acid Do?

Female doctor is checking pregnant woman with stethoscope
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Folic acid is crucial for the development of a healthy brain and spinal cord in utero. If a woman is deficient in folate or folic acid during pregnancy, her baby could be born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the tube containing the spinal cord doesn't close completely. That can result in complications ranging from difficulty walking to paralysis. According to the National Institutes of Health, folate deficiency can also result in premature birth or low birth weight.

However, there is an easy way to prevent these complications. "Taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help ensure women get enough of this essential nutrient," says the Mayo Clinic.

RELATED: The #1 Best Supplement to Take For Immunity

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How Much Folic Acid Is Enough?

Woman holding pills on her hand.
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"All women of reproductive age should get 400 mcg of folic acid every day to get enough folic acid to help prevent some birth defects," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's important to take it consistently, because major birth defects of the brain and spine resulting from folate deficiency can happen in the first few weeks after conception, often before a woman knows she's pregnant.

If you're of childbearing age or planning to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about what vitamins and supplements are right for you. And no matter what life stage you're in, it's always a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider before you start taking a new supplement.

RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia

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Folic Acid and Alzheimer's

Senior woman posing against a grey background.
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"Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common type of neurodegenerative disease leading to dementia in the elderly," says a new study," says a report in Frontiers in Neuroscience. "Increasing evidence indicates that folate plays an important role in the pathogenesis of AD. To investigate the role of folate deficiency/possible deficiency in the risk of AD and the benefical effect of sufficient folate intake on the prevention of AD, a systematic review and meta-analysis were performed." The results? "That folate deficiency/possible deficiency increases the risk for AD, while sufficient intake of folate is a protective factor against AD." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael