January is a wonderful month to start fresh, and as you leave 2014 behind you, new beginnings are on the horizon. Maybe you have made a resolution to lose weight or quit smoking or you may have even begun a new job or embarked on a new hobby.
You may have also been one of the lucky families to welcome a new child or grandchild this past month. Every January, I flip through the newspaper to discover the first bundles of joy to be born in the New Year. It doesn’t surprise me that the first full week in January was dedicated to vitamin B9: National Folic Acid Awareness Week was January 4–10.
B9 is a water-soluble B-vitamin; folic acid is the synthetic version that you only find in supplements and folate is the natural version found in your food (and also used in some supplements).
How Much Folic Acid Do You Need?
Folate is essential for cell growth; women in their childbearing years often require between 600 and 800 micrograms of folate to prevent birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida during pregnancy by 50% to 70%. How common are birth defects? Well, every four and a half minutes in the U.S., a mother gives birth to a baby with a defect—that’s 120,000 babies every year. This has got to stop! If a woman has a family history of birth defects, their doctor may recommend four milligrams (4,000 micrograms) of folate. Nursing mothers will even require 500 micrograms of folate for lactation.
However, folate isn’t just important for pregnancy—everyone beyond the age of 14 needs at least 400 micrograms every day. Here are five of the biggest reasons:
1. Avoid Anemia: Folic acid deficiency has a strong connection to anemia, which is due to a lack of red blood cells. Weakness, tiredness, and forgetfulness are all symptoms of anemia. Additional amounts of folate are required for people with anemia.
2. Treat Depression: Folate and vitamin B12 are necessary for a healthy brain, and patients with depression or anxiety are often deficient in these nutrients. The vitamin can also improve cognitive function and depressive symptoms in people with alcoholism and older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Boost Immunity: Increased amounts of dietary and supplemental folate can improve immune system function, especially in seniors. The vitamin is known to increase T cells, lymphocytes important in immune response.
4. Prevent Heart Disease: A low intake of folate increases your risk for high homocysteine levels and cardiovascular disease, which may also lead to Parkinson’s disease. Folate can prevent the buildup of homocysteine and maintain healthy blood circulation.
5. Soothe Skin Problems: Vitamin B12 and folate are both often used as treatment in people with severe acne. In a recent six-month study, both nutrients were considered low in 100 acne patients. Folate is also known to prevent skin cancer, improve skin firmness, and give the skin a healthy and natural appearance.
How to Get Your B9
A good multivitamin and mineral supplement will contain an adequate amount of folate or folic acid. If you are deficient in folic acid, it is a good idea to supplement with a B-complex that includes folate and vitamin B12. Be aware that too much folic acid supplementation can mask B12 deficiency. Synthetic folic acid is also linked to an increase in risk of colorectal cancer.
You can also obtain folate from natural plant-based foods, such as leafy green vegetables—spinach, collard greens, cabbage, and romaine lettuce—broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, beets, summer squash, sunflower seeds, oats, whole wheat, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils, bananas, raspberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, and citrus fruits.
Other Important Benefits of Folate
How do you know if you are deficient in folate? Antibiotics are known to deplete the B-complex vitamins, including folate. A person with a deficiency may be overly stressed, and have malabsorption and irregular metabolism. Folate can also reduce the risk of stroke, promote normal cholesterol levels and hair growth, and reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration or colorectal cancer.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Morris, M.S., et al., “Folate and vitamin B-12 status in relation to anemia, macrocytosis, and cognitive impairment in older Americans in the age of folic acid fortification,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2007; 85(1): 193-200.
Gokalp, H., et al., “Decreased Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid Concentrations in Acne Patients After Isotretinoin Therapy: A Controlled Study,” Indian Journal of Dermatology, November to December 2014; 59(6): 630, doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.143533.
Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007), 756-757.
Williams, J.D., et al., “Folate in skin cancer prevention,” Subcell Biochemistry, 2012; 56: 181-197, doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-2199-9_10.
Daniells, S., “Folate supplements could improve immune system in the elderly,” Nutra Ingredients.com, Dec. 16, 2005; http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Folate-supplements-could-improve-immune-system-in-the-elderly.
Coppen, A., “Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12,” Journal of Psychopharmacology, January 2005; 19(1): 59-65.
“Folic Acid Awareness Week is January 4th-10th, 2015,” National Birth Defects Prevention Network web site; http://www.nbdpn.org/faaw2015.php, last accessed Dec. 19, 2014.
“Facts about Birth Defects,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts.html, last accessed Dec. 19, 2014.
“9 Incredible Health Benefits of Folate,” Global Healing Center website, January 8, 2014; http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/9-incredible-health-benefits-of-folate/.