Folic acid or folate, one of the B-complex vitamins, is necessary for the synthesis of DNA and SAMe — which keep our cells healthy and able to replicate, as well as enhance mood. It is also necessary to keep homeocysteine levels in check, which may aid the prevention of heart disease, and is needed for our bodies' metabolism of both amino acids and sugars.
Other names for Folic Acid
Folate, Vitamin B9
Where to find Folic Acid
Folic acid is found in many foods, including green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, endive, beet greens, and chard; asparagus, broccoli, and cabbage; oranges, cantaloupe, and most berries; avocados, whole grains, brewer's yeast, and legumes (beans); as well as in fortified foods, such as enriched bread, flour, rice, noodles, and cereals.
Tip Unfortunately, our bodies can use only about a quarter of the available folic acid from foods. It's also destroyed by cooking and processing.
Popup: Foods highest in Folic Acid
The Daily Value for Folic Acid is 400 mcg.
Why athletes use Folic Acid
Although folic acid gained its reputation as a potent birth-defect preventor, it's certainly not just for pregnant women. Deficiencies are common and can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, depression, and even acne. Plus, it's necessary for the metabolism of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and to transform sugars into useable energy. It's important to stave off any deficiency of folic acid, as lacking enough of this vitamin can inhibit both muscular and nervous system function.
Ways that Folic Acid can enhance Longevity:
- Boost immune functioning by aiding white blood cells and antibodies
Signs of Folic Acid deficiency
Deficiency of Folic Acid has been linked to:
Potential uses for Folic Acid
Research indicates that Folic Acid may also be useful in the treatment of:
More about Folic Acid
Ask any pregnant woman what vitamins she's taking, and the first she'll probably proclaim is folic acid, which has been shown to help prevent anemia in the mother and birth defects in the baby. But this vitamin is valuable to people of all walks of life, not just soon-to-be mothers. It's been shown to help reduce clogging of the arteries, loss of bone strength, and depression.
Essential for the early stages of life
One of the few supplements officially recommended by the American Medical Association for all women of childbearing age, folic acid has powerful effects on the growth of our cells, particularly early on in life. In other words, it's been shown to be especially important for women who are carrying a baby.
This B vitamin is mainly responsible for manufacturing the familiar building blocks of life: DNA and RNA, which determine how each of us turns out. Plus, it's needed to help form red blood cells and to help our cells both divide and replicate. When there is a deficiency of folic acid, growth and development can go far off track, potentially leading to deformation of the spine or even a total lack of a brain. Sadly and unbelievably, in the United States alone, up to 2 babies per 1,000 are born with this type of defect.
Fortunately, evidence suggests supplementation with 400 mcg of folic acid per day in the early stages of pregnancy may reduce these defects by up to 80%.
Not just for wee babies
Before we start thinking folic acid is needed only for expecting mothers and their children, it's important to be aware that folic acid appears to keep the walls of the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart clear to help decrease the risk of clogging while encouraging the free flow of oxygen.
Folic acid also decreases levels of a harmful amino acid called homocystine, which is elevated in 20 to 40% of patients that develop heart disease. Some experts estimate that a 400-mcg supplement alone would result in a 10% reduction of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year. It seems to be most effective when used with Vitamins B12 and B6 in a B-complex.
The harmful homocystine can also play a role in the bone loss seen in osteoporosis. Many experts have noticed that this bone loss is more prevalent in many postmenopausal women, and the basic addition of folic acid may help reduce the occurrence.
Folic acid seems to act as a mild antidepressant by increasing levels of the chemical brain messenger serotonin, along with other coenzymes. When patients have a folic acid deficiency and are given folic acid to combat this condition, marked improvement of mental and psychological symptoms often result, especially in the elderly. Scientists have found even more remarkable results occur when folic acid is combined with B12 and C.
Folic acid deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world. It is seen most often in people who don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. This vitamin is also very fragile and can be destroyed with the use of alcohol, prescription drugs, and high heat. Additional folic acid is also needed for anyone using aspirin, seizure medication, and antibiotics, as well as people who smoke or drink alcohol or anyone recovering from surgery or a major illness.
Deficiencies of this vital vitamin lead to a wide range of symptoms because all cells are affected, especially those that divide rapidly, like our red blood cells and those in the digestive tract. Symptoms include poor growth, anemia, depression, insomnia, fatigue, forgetfulness, and an abnormal pap smear in women.
The medical establishment doesn't always encourage the use of supplementation and nutritional enhancement, and it took them a long time to come around and recommend this one — folic acid was actually linked to reducing birth defects over 30 years earlier, and double-blind studies have shown its use to be effective since 1980. Even now, folic acid is recognized only for this purpose. But why wait for the medical establishment to accept the other benefits of this important vitamin? After all, the evidence is already building.
For general health, most experts agree 400 mcg is sufficient. However, some suggest the minimum amount is 400 mcg, and it may be beneficial to consume up to 800 mcg.
For pregnant women, up to 800 mcg is typically recommended to help prevent birth defects.
Folic acid is usually recommended divided throughout the day with food and as part of a multivitamin or B-complex.
When Vitamin B8 supplements are stored at room temperature for extended periods, their effects are significantly reduced or even eliminated.
The folinic acid form may be a more efficient form for raising levels of folic acid in the body.
Synergists of Folic Acid
Vitamin B12, B6, and a supplement called SAMe are often used together with folic acid to boost its effects.
Vitamins B12 and B8 work together to metabolize amino acids and sugars and synthesize protein.
Safety of Folic Acid
Anyone with epilepsy or on epileptic medication should avoid high amounts of folic acid because it may increase seizure activity.
Folic acid will mask a deficiency of B12 in the body, which can cause serious nerve damage, so it is wise to use them together.
Drugs that interact with Folic Acid
Birth control pills will decrease the effectiveness and destroy some of the stored folic acid in the body.
Aspirin, seizure medications, anesthetics, estrogens, alcohol, various chemotherapy drugs, barbiturates, and antibiotics all inhibit the effectiveness of folic acid.
Folic acid may interfere with the anticancer treatment methotrexate.
Toxicity of Folic Acid
More than 1,500 mcg per day may lead to toxicity and cause kidney complications, stomach upset, gas, and bloating.
Bans and restrictions
- Bung, P., et al., "Folic Acid Supply in Pregnancy-Results of a Prospective Longitudinal Study," Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd 53.2 (1993) : 92-9.
- Butterworth, C.E., Jr., and Tamura, T., "Folic Acid Safety and Toxicity: A Brief Review," Am J Clin Nutr 50.2 (1989) : 353-8.
- Lashner, B.A., et al., "The Effect of Folic Acid Supplementation on the Risk for Cancer or Dysplasia in Ulcerative Colitis," Gastroenterology 112.1 (1997) : 29-32.
- Mills, J.L., "Homocysteine and Neural Tube Defects," J Nutr 126.3 (1996) : 756S-60.
- MRC Vitamin Study Research Group, "Prevention of Neural Tube Defects: Results of the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study," Lancet 338.8760 (1991) : 131-7.
- Muller, W.H., and Froscher, W., "Neurologic and Psychologic Disorders in Folic Acid Deficiency," Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 57.9 (1989) : 395-401.
- Rimm, E.B., et al., "Folate and Vitamin B6 from Diet and Supplements in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women," JAMA 279.5 (1998) : 359-64.
- Truswell, A.S., "ABC of Nutrition. Nutrition for Pregnancy," Br Med J 291.6490 (1985) : 263-6.