Folate is another name for vitamin B9 and it has a key role in maintaining a lot of critical functions in the human body. Let’s take a look at what it is, how it benefits you and what happens when you take it the wrong way. Yes, that’s possible too.
What Is Folate?
Folate is a vitamin B that produces RNA and DNA, produces white and red blood cells in the bone marrow and converts carbs into energy in the human body. Having the right amount of folate is important at all times but specifically when in infancy and adolescence when the body is growing and during later periods of change like pregnancy.
Why Is Folate A Very Important Vitamin?
The right amount of folate when the body is developing has a lot of benefits. Here’s a look at some of those.
1. Helps Prevent Birth Defects
During pregnancy, the right amount of folic acid is important because the supplements can help avoid birth defects like anencephaly which is when the baby is born without a part of the skull or brain. It can also prevent spina bifida which is when the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly.
According to the recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force, pregnant women and those aspiring to be pregnant should get a dose of at least 400 to 800 micrograms folic acid a month before they get pregnant. This should be continued in the first three months of the pregnancy. It also helps avoid complications during the pregnancy.
2. Good For Brain Health
Folate levels in the blood should be maintained well. Otherwise, it can increase the possibility of dementia. Low to normal levels of folate are also associated with mental impairment among older adults.
Getting a folic acid supplement can help improve the functions of the human brain. They are also used in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Can Help Improve Mental Health
Individuals who suffer from depression are also likely to have low levels of folate in their blood compared to those who don’t have the disease. The usage of folate supplements like methyl folate and folic acid has been proven to help reduce the symptoms when they are used along with antidepressants. It is certainly more effective than using antidepressants alone.
Which Foods Contain Folate?
Folate is naturally present in many different foods but there are fortified foods that also contain folate in its synthetic form which is called folic acid. And that’s good. Here is a list of food that can give you vitamin B9 if your regular diet isn’t cutting it.
- Vegetables like Brussels sprouts and asparagus
- Beef liver
- Dark leafy veggies
- Fruits like oranges
- Fruit juices
- Nuts, peas and beans like peanuts and kidney beans
Fortified foods that contain folic acid are:
- Corn masa flour that is used to make tamales and tortillas
- Bread flour and cornmeal
Folate comes in many different forms. Some of them break down in the process of cooking. And our body’s ability to suck in folate changes from food item to food item. So, it is important to check the specifics before preparing a balanced diet.
Daily Recommended Dose
The Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA of folate depends on the person’s age, sex and specific health conditions. So, it looks something like this.
- Men and women who are 19 or older should get 400 mcg
- Breastfeeding women should take 500 mcg
- Pregnant should get 600 mcg
- Those who drink alcohol often should get a minimum of 600 mcg because alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb folate
A folate deficiency can cause problems like:
- Weak muscles
- Impaired judgment
- Memory and comprehension problems
- Sore tongue
- Problems with eyesight
- Ulcers inside the mouth
Usually, a folate deficiency comes with other problems like iron or B12 deficiency. It might be because there isn’t enough folate in the diet, post-surgery, alcoholism, pregnancy and so on.
These situations and the deficiency can cause birth defects, bad immune functions, depression, mental impairment and more. So, it is important to get enough folate. But there is an upper limit too. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level or UL is 1,000 mcg for healthy adults. This does not include the folate you get from food.
Folate Vs Folic Acid
As mentioned earlier, folate is another name for the B9 vitamin which is naturally present in food. Folic acid, on the other hand, is not natural but a synthetic version of the vitamin which is added to foods by manufacturers.
This is because the latter is more stable when it comes into contact with light and heat which is often the case when food products are made. Both these versions have their nutritional merits which is why the body should be able to absorb them without any hassle.
Possible Side Effects
While folate supplements are good when it comes to treating some cancers, they can actually cause more problems among those who have prostate cancer. It increases the growth of this cancer and is bad even in terms of those who are at a higher risk of the disease. But more research is needed to understand the relationship between cancer and folate.
Generally speaking, folate supplements are safe but if you take them while on certain other medications, there is the risk of drug interactions which make folate a little ineffective. Folate supplements are not a good idea if you are on:
- Phenytek, Mysoline, Dilantin or Cerebyx, that are anticonvulsants
- Trexall which is used to treat psoriasis
- Barbiturates that are anesthetic drugs given to promote sleep and relaxation
- Daraprim, which is to treat parasitic infections
If you are experiencing side effects of folate, you might feel a loss of appetite, nausea, a bad taste in your mouth, irritability, confusion and a disturbance in your sleep schedule. That’s a good time to alert the doctor.
Why Is Folate A Very Important Vitamin? In Conclusion
Folate, like all other essential vitamins, has a lot of virtues. When you get it directly from food, you won’t be at any risk. But if you are taking supplements, you better be doing it in consultation with a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Otherwise, you might get the dosage wrong and end up in more trouble than you were in when you innocently reached for those supplements.