Folic acid is a synthetic vitamin found in supplements and fortified foods. However, folate (also known as vitamin B-9), is a vitamin B that naturally occurs in certain foods too. For a healthy lifestyle, it is important to include both folic acid and folate in your diet. Wonder what is so special about it? Well, keep reading for our top benefits of taking folic acid!
Your Body Can’t Make It Naturally
Your body can naturally produce all the nutrients essential for your health and survival. However, folate is one of the few vitamins that your body cannot make naturally – yet it is so important for your overall health. This is why you need to obtain this vitamin through dietary intake as well as supplements.
Folate is found in many plant and animal foods like avocado, eggs, spinach, kale, broccoli, citrus fruits, and beef liver.
However, Folic acid is often added to ready-to-eat foods like breakfast cereals, bread and more. It’s also available in a concentrated form through food supplements.
Dietary Folate Equivalents is a unit of measure that accounts for the differences in absorbability of folic acid and folate.
Synthetic folic acid is thought to have 100% absorbability when consumed on an empty stomach, while folic acid found in fortified foods is thought to have only 85% absorbability. Naturally occurring folate has a much lower absorbability of around 50%.
Prevention of Pregnancy Complications & Birth Defects
One of the most common uses of folic acid and folate supplements is to prevent birth defects, more specifically, neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly (when a baby is born without parts of its brain or skull).
In fact, maternal folate levels are commonly used to predict whether there is a neural tube defect risk. Therefore, folic acid supplementation for women who are or may become pregnant are often prescribed to prevent fetal birth defects and may even assist in preventing pregnancy-related complications like preeclampsia.
Promotes Brain Health
Medical research has shown that low blood folate levels are associated with poor brain function as well as an increased risk of dementia. In fact, even normal with low folate levels are associated with an increased risk of mental impairment in older adults. These studies have also shown that folic acid supplements may improve brain function in those with mental impairment and assist in treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Treatment of Mental Health Disorders
Research shows that people with depression have lower blood levels of folate than those without depression. It proves that folic acid and folate supplements may even reduce depressive symptoms when used in conjunction with antidepressant medications.
Another study showed that treatment with folate-based supplements alongside antipsychotic medication resulted in reduced negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia, compared with antipsychotic medication alone.
Reduced Heart Disease Risk
Taking folic acid as a supplement may help improve heart health as well as a reduced risk of heart disease factors including high blood pressure and an improved blood flow.
Having elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Blood levels of homocysteine are determined by both nutritional and genetic factors.
Folate plays a major role in the metabolism of homocysteine, and low folate levels can contribute to high homocysteine levels, known as hyper-homocysteinemia.
More Benefits & Uses
Supplementing with folic acid has also been associated with the following health benefits:
Folate-based supplements may help improve blood sugar control, reduce insulin resistance, and enhance cardiovascular function in those with diabetes. These supplements may also help reduce diabetic complications, including neuropathy.
A high intake of the folic acid supplement is associated with higher rates of live births in women undergoing assisted reproductive technology. Adequate folate is also essential for oocyte (egg) quality, implantation, and maturation of the egg.
Folic acid and folate supplements have been shown to reduce inflammation in different populations including women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and children with epilepsy.
Reduction of Medication Side Effects
Taking a daily folic acid dietary supplement may help reduce the incidence of side effects in certain medications including methotrexate – an immunosuppressant drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and certain cancers.
Due to impaired kidney function, hyperhomocysteinemia occurs in over 80% of people with chronic kidney disease. Supplementing with folic acid may help reduce homocysteine levels and heart disease risk.
And many more! There are many other reasons why people use folate-based supplements as well as a folate-rich diet.
What Happens When You Have A Folate Deficiency?
Folate is involved in a number of vital metabolic processes; hence, a lack of the vitamin can be dangerous. Folate deficiency can occur due to a many different causes such as inadequate dietary intake, surgery, pregnancy, alcoholism and malabsorptive diseases.
Deficiency can also result in serious side effects including megaloblastic anemia, birth defects, mental impairment, impaired immune function and even depression.
Unfortunately, folate deficiency is quite common as many find it difficult to acquire the necessary dietary intake through their diets. To help with it, many countries even fortify grain products (amongst other products) with folic acid to reduce the incidence of folate deficiency.
Therefore, to maintain a healthy body, it is important to include both folic acid supplements as well as naturally occurring folate through a healthy diet.
Ready to improve your health? See our list of Folic Acid dietary supplements specifically catered towards your health requirements.