Do you want to know the amazing benefits of folic acid? Are you curious to learn how this essential nutrient can contribute to your overall health and well-being? If yes, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, learn everything you need to know about folic acid, its benefits and potential side effects.
What Is Folic Acid (1)?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, also known as vitamin B9.
Folic acid plays a crucial role in the production of healthy red blood cells. While folate can be obtained from specific foods, folic acid is commonly used in dietary supplements and fortified foods to ensure an adequate intake. Its importance in maintaining overall health makes folic acid an essential nutrient to consider for a balanced diet.
Folic Acid Benefits & Uses (2)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Primary Benefits: Observational studies have shown a possible association between folic acid intake and a lower risk of ASD.
- Secondary Benefits: Additionally, folic acid’s role in DNA methylation might also influence neurodevelopment positively.
- Primary Benefits: Studies show that folic acid influences cancer development through its role in one-carbon metabolism, DNA replication, and cell division.
- Secondary Benefits: As such, folate intake has been found to be inversely associated with the risk of colorectal, lung, pancreatic, oesophagal, stomach, cervical, ovarian, breast, bladder and other cancers.
- Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
- Primary Benefits: Folic acid and other B vitamins are involved in homocysteine metabolism, and elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Secondary Benefits: Folic acid supplementation has also been found to provide protection against stroke, reducing the risk by up to 25%.
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Primary Benefits: Observational studies have shown positive associations between folic acid’s elevated homocysteine levels and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- Secondary Benefits: Some studies have also suggested a potential benefit of folic acid supplementation in slowing cognitive decline in individuals with a low baseline dietary intake of B vitamins.
- Primary Benefits: Low folate status has been linked to depression and poor response to antidepressants in some studies.
- Secondary Benefits: On the contrary, higher serum concentrations of folate have been associated with a lower prevalence of depression in adults.
- Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)
- Primary Benefits: Adequate folic acid consumption before and during pregnancy can prevent a substantial proportion of NTDs.
- Secondary Benefits: As such, it can help prevent malformations of the spine, skull and brain, resulting from the incomplete closure of the neural tube during early pregnancy.
Folic Acid Deficiency (2)
Folic acid deficiency is commonly associated with poor diet, alcoholism, and malabsorptive disorders.
The primary clinical sign of deficiency is megaloblastic anaemia, characterised by large, abnormal red blood cells. Symptoms may include weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headache, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Additional manifestations can include tongue and oral mucosa soreness, changes in skin and hair pigmentation, gastrointestinal symptoms, and elevated homocysteine levels.
In addition to this, people with alcohol use disorder may also have folate inadequacy. Alcohol interferes with folate absorption and breakdown, exacerbating the deficiency.
Women of childbearing age and pregnant women may also have folate deficiency. Furthermore, those with malabsorptive disorders, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, may also suffer from folate inadequacy as they absorb less folate.
Individuals with the MTHFR polymorphism are another group of people that have reduced ability to convert folate, leading to elevated homocysteine levels and increased risk of neural tube defects.
Who Should & Who Shouldn’t Take Folic Acid (1)?
Folic acid is generally safe for most people. It is especially beneficial for people who have folate deficiency or are at risk of developing it.
However, despite being an essential nutrient, folic acid may not be suitable for everyone. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a doctor before starting folic acid supplementation.
The following people should especially take the guidance of a healthcare professional before taking folic acid supplements:
- who have experienced an allergic reaction to folic acid or any other medication
- who have low vitamin B12 levels or pernicious anaemia
- who have cancer
- who are undergoing haemodialysis
- who have a heart stent
Folic Acid Side Effects (2)
While folic acid is generally safe, excessive consumption may cause the following side effects.
- High folic acid intake may “mask” vitamin B12 deficiency, potentially delaying the detection of neurological consequences until they become irreversible.
- Excessive intake of folic acid has raised concerns about accelerating the progression of preneoplastic lesions, potentially increasing the risk of colorectal and other cancers in susceptible people.
- Intakes of 1,000 mcg or more of folic acid from supplements during the periconceptional period have been associated with lower cognitive development scores in children aged 4–5 years, compared to children whose mothers consumed 400 mcg to 999 mcg.
- Excessive folic acid intake can lead to unmetabolized folic acid in the body, which has been linked to reduced numbers and activity of natural killer cells, potentially affecting the immune system.
The Final Takeaway
Folic acid is a vital nutrient that plays a significant role in maintaining overall health. From its benefits in preventing neural tube defects and reducing the risk of certain cancers to its impact on cardiovascular health, brain function, and mental well-being, folic acid offers a range of advantages.
However, it’s crucial to exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before starting folic acid supplementation, especially if you have specific medical conditions or are taking other medications.
- How much folic acid do I need daily (1)?
The recommended daily intake of folic acid varies depending on age, sex, and life stage. For most adults, 400 micrograms (mcg) per day is usually recommended. Pregnant women may need higher doses. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right dosage for you.
- Is it safe to take folic acid with other supplements?
Folic acid is generally safe to take with other supplements. However, it’s always wise to consult with a healthcare professional before combining supplements, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking specific medications.
- Can I take folic acid if I’m not planning to become pregnant (2)?
Yes, as folic acid also offers other health benefits, like supporting red blood cell production, brain function, heart health, etc. However, you must discuss with your doctor if folic acid supplementation is recommended for you or not.
- Can folic acid interfere with other medicines (1)?
Yes, folic acid may interfere with certain medications. It’s important to consult with a doctor before starting folic acid supplementation if you are under any medication, including pain relief medications.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general information and not meant to substitute any medical advice. Please consult your doctor for appropriate medical consultation.