folate or folic acid

A folate test measures the amount of folate in the blood. Folate is vitamins B9. The body needs folate for normal growth and to make red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), and platelets. Folate also is important for the normal development of a baby (fetus).

Folate can be measured in the liquid portion of blood (plasma). This reflects a person’s recent intake of folate and folic acid in the diet. Folate is found in foods such as liver; citrus fruits; dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach); whole grains; and beans. Folic acid is the man-made form of folate. It’s found in vitamin pills and fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals. Most Albertans get enough folate from fortified foods (such as flour).

Folate deficiency can result in a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. Mild folate deficiency often does not cause any symptoms. Severe folate deficiency may cause a sore tongue, diarrhea, headaches, weakness, forgetfulness, and fatigue.

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

You should not eat or drink for 6 hours before the test. Your health care provider may tell you to stop taking any drugs that may interfere with test results, including folic acid supplements.

Drugs that can decrease folic acid measurements include: 

  • Alcohol
  • Aminosalicylic acid
  • Birth control pills
  • Estrogens
  • Tetracyclines
  • Ampicillin
  • Chloramphenicol
  • Erythromycin
  • Methotrexate
  • Penicillin
  • Aminopterin
  • Phenobarbital
  • Phenytoin
  • Drugs to treat malaria

How the Test will Feel

You may feel slight pain or a little sting when the needle is inserted. There may be some throbbing at the site.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done to check for folic acid deficiency.

Folic acid helps form red blood cells and produce DNA that stores genetic codes. Taking the right amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Some women may need to take more if they have a history of neural tube defects in earlier pregnancies. Ask your provider how much you need.

Lower-than-normal folic acid levels may indicate:

  • Poor diet
  • Malabsorption syndrome (for example, celiac sprue)
  • Malnutrition

The test may also be done in cases of:

  • Anemia due to folate deficiency
  • Megaloblastic anemia