Folate (Folic Acid): Benefits, Side Effects, Supplements | Ro (2023)

table of contents

  1. What is folate?
  2. The benefits of folate
  3. Folate and pregnancy
  4. How much folate do you need?
  5. Sources of folate
  6. Too much or too little folate

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Can you imagine trying to build a piece of furniture without the right instructions? The task would be daunting. Much like instructions can help us build things we need in our homes, instructions can also help the cells in our bodies to function, reproduce, and make proteins. DNA—or deoxyribonucleic acid—supplies our cells with such instructions (NIH, 2020). And, in order for our bodies to make DNA, we need folate.

Folate, also called vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that you need to consume regularly so that your body has the resources it needs to form red blood cells, create new proteins, and, as we said above, lend a hand in producing DNA (Mercadante, 2021; Merrell, 2021).

While everyone needs some folate, some people need greater amounts than others. Let’s take a deeper look at folate, how it impacts your body, and when you might need to supplement with synthetic folate (folic acid).

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What is folate?

Folate, also called vitamin B9, is a water-soluble vitamin. What this means is that your body can’t store folate for very long. You must get a certain amount of folate from food sources or supplements (Lystad, 2021). While the bacteria in your colon make some folate, it is unclear how much this amount contributes to someone having enough folate (NIH, 2021).

Folate vs. folic acid

People sometimes use folate and folic acid interchangeably, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. There are a few different types of folate that have slightly different molecular structures (Shulpekova, 2021).

Folate is the broad umbrella term that refers to all forms of the vitamin. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that we add to foods or consume in most dietary supplements (NIH, 2021). Folate is the form of the vitamin that is naturally found in food sources (Khan, 2021).

The benefits of folate

Everyone needs folate so their cells can function correctly. Without folate, your body could not make DNA or RNA. DNA carries the instructions your cells need to reproduce, develop, and function (NIH, 2020). Your body also needs folate so your red blood cells can mature correctly (this helps prevent anemia) (Merrell, 2021).

(Video) Avoid Folic Acid and Take Folate (as methylfolate) – Folic Acid vs. Folate – Dr.Berg

Getting enough folate has several benefits. Some research suggests that getting enough folate might decrease your risk of getting certain types of cancer (Pieroth, 2018). But overall, the relationship between the risk for cancer and taking folic acid supplements is unclear, and health experts need to do more research in this area (NIH, 2021).

Another area of interest is the relationship between folate intake and cardiovascular disease. For example, taking folic acid supplements might help decrease some people’s risk for stroke (Qin, 2016).

While there is still much research to be done on folate’s benefits on other aspects of health, the fact that this B-vitamin plays a role in the creation of DNA and RNA is reason enough to make sure you’re getting enough of it.

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Folate and pregnancy

Women of childbearing age and pregnant women are at particular risk for folate deficiency. These women should get a higher amount of folate to help prevent neural tube defects in any developing children (NIH, 2021).

The neural tube is the portion of the unborn child that will eventually develop into the brain and spinal cord. If the neural tube fails to develop properly, a child can have disorders like spina bifida, which can severely impair a child’s nervous system and overall ability to function (Singh, 2021). Not getting enough folate during pregnancy may also increase the risk of preterm birth and fetal growth problems.

We still don’t fully understand how folate impacts other areas of health. Some research suggests that not getting enough folate during pregnancy is linked to children having autism. But at this point, there is no proof that folate deficiency in pregnancy causes autism (NIH, 2021).

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How much folate do you need?

Your body does not store folate for very long, so you need to consume folate regularly to ensure your body has enough of it (Merrell, 2021).

The general recommendation is that people over 19 years old should consume about 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily. Women who are pregnant should take about 600 mcg of folate daily. Women who are breastfeeding should take in about 500 mcg of folate daily (NIH, 2021).

Sources of folate

Folate occurs naturally in several foods. Common food sources of folate include fruits, green leafy vegetables, and liver (Khan, 2021). Eggs, beef, chicken, and milk also have folate (NIH, 2021).

Other foods have folic acid added to them. Adding folic acid to foods is a common practice in several countries. In the United States, grain products like flour, pasta, cereals, and bread often have added folic acid (NIH, 2021). Remember, you can always check the nutrition label to see if a food has added folic acid.

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Folic acid supplements

Folic acid supplements are also available, and pregnant women will often take a daily prenatal vitamin that has folic acid in it. Healthcare providers typically recommend that women who want to get pregnant should start taking a prenatal vitamin about a month before attempting conception and up through at least 12 weeks gestation (Mousa, 2019).

Too much or too little folate

As with any vitamin or nutrient, you can get too much or too little of it. However, some people are more at risk for folate imbalances than others. For example, people who drink large amounts of alcohol are at risk for folate deficiency because alcohol interferes with folate absorption. People with malabsorption disorders or a genetic disorder called MTHFR polymorphism are also at risk for a deficiency (NIH, 2021).

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Too little folate

When you get too little of the vitamin, you are at risk for megaloblastic anemia—a type of anemia that occurs when the body cannot make normal red blood cells (Hariz, 2021). Its symptoms include fatigue, irritability, headache, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations (NIH, 2021). Folate deficiency can also cause an overall low number of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets in the body, and inflammation in the mouth and tongue. People with a deficiency might also experience mental and nerve symptoms like fatigue, depression, irritability, and insomnia (Khan, 2021).

Too much folate

Since the body doesn’t store folate for very long, the risk for folate toxicity is very low, and there is no upper-level intake of folate naturally present in foods. However, you can theoretically get too much folic acid in supplements or fortified foods and beverages, and people should not consume more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid from these sources (NIH, 2021).

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The bottom line is that everyone needs folate and most people get enough through the foods they eat or from foods fortified with folic acid. Sometimes, supplements are necessary for groups that need to take in large amounts of folate, such as pregnant women.

Seek medical advice about your folic acid intake needs if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. If you are concerned that you aren’t getting enough folate or are in an at-risk category, talk with your healthcare provider.

References

  1. Khan, K. M. & Jialal, I. (2021). Folic acid deficiency. [Updated 2021, Sep 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535377/
  2. Lykstad, J. & Sharma, S. (2021). Biochemistry, water soluble vitamins. [Updated 2021, March 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538510/
  3. Mercadante, A. A., Mohiuddin, S. S., & Dimri, M. (2021). Biochemistry, replication and transcription. [Updated 2021, Aug 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK540152/
  4. Merrell, B. J. & McMurry, J. P. (2021). Folic acid. [Updated 2021, May 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554487/
  5. Mousa, A., Naqash, A., & Lim, S. (2019). Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake during Pregnancy: An Overview of Recent Evidence. Nutrients, 11(2), 443. doi: 10.3390/nu11020443. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6413112/
  6. National Institute of Health (NIH). (2020). Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) fact sheet. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2021 from https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Deoxyribonucleic-Acid-Fact-Sheet
  7. Pieroth, R., Paver, S., Day, S., & Lammersfeld, C. (2018). Folate and Its Impact on Cancer Risk. Current Nutrition Reports, 7(3), 70–84. doi: 10.1007/s13668-018-0237-y. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132377/
  8. Price, G. & Patel, D. A. (2021). Drug bioavailability. [Updated 2021, Sep 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557852/
  9. Qin, X., Li, J., Spence, J., Zhang, Y., Li, Y., & Wang, X., et al. (2016). Folic acid therapy reduces the first stroke risk associated with hypercholesterolemia among hypertensive patients. Stroke, 47(11). doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.014578. Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.014578?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed
  10. Shulpekova, Y., Nechaev, V., Kardasheva, S., Sedova, A., Kurbatova, A., Bueverova, E., et al. (2021). The Concept of Folic Acid in Health and Disease. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(12), 3731. doi: 10.3390/molecules26123731. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8235569/
  11. Singh, R. & Munakomi, S. (2021). Embryology, neural tube. [Updated 2021, May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542285/
  12. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). (n.d.). FoodData: lentils, cooked, boiled, without salt. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2021 from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172421/nutrients

FAQs

Can folic acid supplements cause side effects? ›

When taken by mouth: It is likely safe for most people to take folic acid in doses of no more than 1 mg daily. Doses higher than 1 mg daily may be unsafe. These doses might cause stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, confusion, behavior changes, skin reactions, seizures, and other side effects.

What are the benefits and side effects of folic acid? ›

Folic acid helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. As a medication, folic acid is used to treat folic acid deficiency and certain types of anemia (lack of red blood cells) caused by folic acid deficiency.

What problems do folic acid cause? ›

Low levels of folic acid can cause megaloblastic anemia. With this condition, red blood cells are larger than normal. There are fewer of these cells. They are also oval-shaped, not round.

Who should not be taking folate supplements? ›

Folic acid is not suitable for some people. To make sure it's safe for you, tell your doctor before starting to take folic acid if you: have ever had an allergic reaction to folic acid or any other medicine. have low vitamin B12 levels (vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia) or pernicious anaemia.

Can folic acid be harmful? ›

Is folic acid safe? At this time, folic acid taken at or up to the recommended amount of 400 micrograms per day (mcg/day) has not been shown to be harmful. Additional information continues to be assessed as it becomes available. The benefits of taking folic acid are well established.

Can folic acid make you gain weight? ›

Excess Folic Acid Intake Increases Weight Gain, Fat Mass and Glucose Intolerance on a High Fat Diet.

Should I take folic acid everyday? ›

CDC urges all women of reproductive age to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day, in addition to consuming food with folate from a varied diet, to help prevent some major birth defects of the baby's brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida).

What happens when you start taking folic acid? ›

If you have the right level of folic acid in your body before you get pregnant, it reduces the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects by up to 70%. Neural tube defects are problems with the brain or spinal cord, including spina bifida.

Can folic acid make you tired? ›

In anaemia

Folic acid helps make healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. If you do not have enough folic acid, your body can make abnormally large red blood cells that do not work properly. This causes folate deficiency anaemia, which can cause tiredness and other symptoms.

Does folic acid affect the brain? ›

Some of the important functions folate aides in are the creation of DNA and RNA, formation of neurotransmitters, and the formation of the nervous system during pregnancy. Folate is also known to help with depression, mental fatigue, and irritability because it can be quickly broken down and supply the body with energy.

Can folic acid make you feel weird? ›

Other side effects reported in patients receiving 15 mg daily include altered sleep patterns, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, overactivity, excitement, mental depression, confusion, and impaired judgment. Decreased vitamin B12 serum levels may occur in patients receiving prolonged folic acid therapy.

Which is one of the first symptoms of folate deficiency? ›

diarrhoea. numbness and tingling in the feet and hands. muscle weakness. depression.

Does folate affect the heart? ›

Folate, along with other B vitamins, helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid that may damage the inner walls of arteries. Such damage can boost the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

What happens when you take folic acid everyday? ›

If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain and spine. These birth defects are neural tube defects or NTDs. Women need to take folic acid every day, starting before they are pregnant to help prevent NTDs.

Does folate help with anxiety? ›

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cobalamin)

Vitamins B9 and B12 are both thought to treat symptoms of anxiety. Folic acid has many uses in the body, and B9 deficiency has been linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Why did the US ban folic acid? ›

Why is the FDA wary of folate? Because little research has been done into the consequences of ingesting large quantities of the stuff. Nutritionists say that the biggest concern is that excessive folate consumption could mask a dangerous vitamin B-12 deficiency, particularly in the elderly.

When should I stop taking folic acid? ›

It's important to take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before you're pregnant and until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

Does excess folic acid cause hair loss? ›

Most studies show little to no relationship between folic acid (or folate) levels and hair loss, particularly when compared to other hormones and nutrients that are closely linked to hair health. However, there's also a small amount of scientific research suggesting that folic acid may have some effect on growth.

What are 3 benefits of folic acid? ›

Folic acid supplements are used for:
  • Preventing neural tube defects in babies.
  • Preventing and treating anemia.
  • Preventing side effects from taking methotrexate.
  • Treating a folate deficiency.
22 Mar 2022

Does folic acid affect hormones? ›

Higher intake of synthetic folate was significantly associated with higher luteal progesterone levels (P trend 0.05). Specifically, women in the 3rd tertile of synthetic folate intake had, on average, 16.0% (95% CI, 0.5–33.8%) higher luteal progesterone levels compared to women in the 1st tertile.

Is folic acid good for hair? ›

Just as getting the right nutrients helps keep your skin and internal organs healthy, nutrients can affect your hair growth too. Folic acid (vitamin B-9), when taken regularly as recommended, is just one of the nutrients that can promote overall healthy hair.

What happens if you take folic acid for too long? ›

Folic acid is generally very safe. Taking too much is unlikely to cause any harm.

Should I take folic acid in the morning or night? ›

What is the best time of day to take folic acid? Most nutritionists say to take supplements, like folic acid, in the morning. Digestion slows at night, so taking your vitamins in the morning will allow for better and more efficient absorption into your system.

Is folic acid good for skin? ›

Folic acid (folic acid vitamin), otherwise known as vitamin B9, plays a vital role in helping to maintain the skin's natural beauty. It possesses concentrations of antioxidants that work to reduce levels of oxidative stress in the skin as well as neutralize harmful free-radicals that are present in the environment.

How many days does it take for folic acid to work? ›

When folic acid is taken for deficiencies, the benefits are usually felt quickly. In most cases, you'll feel better within 24 hours. But don't stop taking folic acid just because you feel better. Take it for as long as it is prescribed.

Does folic acid affect sleep? ›

Folic acid is generally regarded as safe. Side effects are rare. High doses of folic acid can cause nausea, bloating, gas, and insomnia.

Does folic acid make it hard to sleep? ›

B vitamins

A lack of B5 may cause you to wake up repeatedly in the evenings, while B12 and folic acid, which is vitamin B9, are known to help fight insomnia.

Can folic cause insomnia? ›

Folate is generally safe because the human body does not store it. However, excessive intake from supplements may cause insomnia (poor sleep).

Does folate cause anxiety? ›

“Problems with folate metabolism have been associated with depression and/or anxiety.

Can folic acid cause depression? ›

Both low folate and low vitamin B12 status have been found in studies of depressive patients, and an association between depression and low levels of the two vitamins is found in studies of the general population.

Is folate good for your eyes? ›

Folate transport proteins are present in certain eye tissues, which explains why FA plays an important role in eye development.

How do I know if I need folate? ›

Common symptoms of folate deficiency can include: Tiredness, fatigue and lethargy. Muscle weakness. Neurological signs, such as a feeling of pins and needles, tingling, or burning, or peripheral neuropathy, i.e. a numbness in the extremities.

What is the difference between folate and folic acid? ›

The terms “folic acid” and “folate” often are used interchangeably. However, folate is a general term used to describe the many different forms of vitamin B9: folic acid, dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate (5, 10-MTHF), and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) 1.

How can I check my folate level? ›

A folic acid test measures the levels of folic acid, or folate, in your blood. These tests often involve getting your blood drawn by a medical professional or using a finger-prick collection method at home and sending the sample to a lab to measure your folate levels.

Will folate raise blood pressure? ›

The Affect of Folic Acid on High Blood Pressure

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that women with hypertension who took folate were able to significantly reduce their blood pressure.

What organ is folate good for? ›

Folate is an essential B vitamin necessary for producing red and white blood cells in bone marrow, producing DNA and RNA, and transforming carbohydrates into energy. Having an adequate amount of folate is especially important during periods of rapid growth, such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.

Does folic acid unclog arteries? ›

The researchers purported, two years ago, to have discovered that folic acid supplementation could help reduce homocysteine - an amino acid known to influence the narrowing of the arteries levels - and keep arteries clear.

Is folate an antidepressant? ›

Folate deficiency has been associated with depression. The study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of folic acid or l-methylfolate as an adjunct therapy for depression treatment. Folate, as an adjunct to SSRI/SNRIs improves depression scale scores, patient remission, and response rates.

Is folic acid good for nerves? ›

Folic acid shows great potential in repairing nervous system injury because of its neurotrophic effects (Balashova et al., 2018). Folic acid, a derivative of water-soluble vitamins, plays a key role in the growth, differentiation and regeneration of the central nervous system (Iskandar et al., 2004, 2010).

Is folate the same as B12? ›

Vitamin B12 or B9 (commonly called folate) deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 or folate causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that can't function properly. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body using a substance called haemoglobin.

Why do I feel sick after taking folic acid? ›

But some of these ingredients, such as iron and folic acid can be the cause of stomach irritation— especially if the tablet contains too much iron, or is too large.

What happens when you consume folic acid? ›

Folic acid protects unborn children against serious birth defects called neural tube defects. These birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Folic acid might also help prevent other types of birth defects and early pregnancy loss (miscarriage).

When should I take my folic acid morning or night? ›

There is no need to take the supplement at a specific time of day or with a meal. However, developing a habit, such as taking a prenatal vitamin every morning with breakfast, may make it easier to remember to take folic acid.

When should you stop taking folic acid? ›

It's important to take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before you're pregnant and until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

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