What is Folic Acid Good For? – Overview
Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9 is a vitamin that occurs naturally in foods like asparagus, beans, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, lentils, liver, etc.
The importance of folic acid in the body is mainly in creating and maintaining cells and preventing DNA alterations that can cause the growth of cancerous cells.
Due to its numerous benefits, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires food manufacturers to fortify foods such as bread, cereals, and pasta with folic acid.
This review will look at the numerous health and well-being of folic acid. We’ll also highlight some side effects, albeit they aren’t too many.
The Benefits of Folic Acid Include:
1. Cancer Prevention
Folic acid is vital in the creation of DNA (the building blocks for genes) and cell growth. Some studies suggest that folic acid can help prevent some types of early cancer and suppress existing cancers when high doses of folate are used.
Studies indicate that individuals with above-average amounts of folate either from their diets or vitamin B9 supplements have a lower risk of contracting breast and colon cancer.
This is especially important for women who drink alcohol. Why? Studies show that folic acid lessens breast cancer risk among women who drink more than one alcoholic drink a day.
2. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
Folic acid, coupled with cobalamin (vitamin B12), plays a crucial role in transforming homocysteine into methionine, one of the building blocks of new proteins in the body.
This transformation process is less efficient without adequate cobalamin and folic acid, causing homocysteine levels to rise. Some studies have linked high homocysteine levels with increased cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Other observational studies show lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, and even stroke among people who eat foods rich in folic acid.
3. Diabetes Prevention
Folic acid or vitamin B9-rich foods can help regulate blood sugar and lower insulin resistance among people with diabetes. Keep in mind that some diabetes drugs can lower the amount of folic acid in your body, so you might need folic acid supplements to boost your levels.
According to several studies, there is a link between high homocysteine levels and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Elevated homocysteine levels can negatively affect the brain, limiting the flow of blood to the head and nerves.
But clinical trials have not established that taking folate supplements prevents dementia or boosts cognitive function, albeit they lower homocysteine levels in the blood.
As a result, more clinical trials with a longer span are needed to conclude the effect of folic acid supplements on boosting cognitive function and preventing dementia.
5. Eliminating Birth Defects
One of the discoveries that changed how people look at vitamins was the discovery that folic acid deficiency can lead to congenital disabilities in the spine, commonly known as spina bifida.
About five decades ago, no one knew what caused congenital disabilities in the brain and spine, which happen when the tissues that eventually become the brain or spine develop crookedly.
It’s worth noting that the timing for when folate supplements are administered to expectant mothers is vital. As a result, the folic acid supplements must be administered a couple of weeks after conception; immediately, the woman learns she’s expectant.
Folic acid supplements are recommended because it’s hard for expectant women to get roughly 400 micrograms of folate from food daily, even if it’s fortified. Since the start of mandatory folic acid fortification of foods in the late 90s, birth defects have dropped by about 30%.
6. Kidney Disease Prevention
Kidneys typically eliminate waste from the blood, but when diseases infect them, their productivity drops, increasing homocysteine levels.
Studies show that at least 80% of people with chronic kidney disease have high homocysteine levels in their blood. But when such people take foods rich in folic acid or vitamin B9 supplements, the levels of homocysteine in their bodies can drop.
7. Increasing Sperm Count
Can folate or vitamin B9 supplements boost sperm count in men? Well, some studies suggest that it’s possible. One study found that vitamin B9 and zinc supplements taken for about 25 weeks increased total sperm count in fertile and semi-infertile men.
The study shows that the average sperm count in these men rose by about 75%. An interesting discovery from this study was that folic acid and zinc levels were not substantially different in fertile and semi-infertile men.
Therefore, although low levels of folic acid weren’t the root cause of low sperm count, folic acid supplements help increase total sperm count. But keep in mind that folic acid isn’t a cure for infertility; it may work for fertile and semi-infertile men with low total sperm count.
Any Side Effects?
It’s worth noting that most adults and kids in the US get enough folic acid from fortified foods thanks to a mandate by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). When people consume too much folic acid, it can bring about problems like:
As indicated above, taking folate or vitamin B9 supplements during pregnancy helps prevent birth defects. However, when pregnant women have incredibly high levels of un-metabolized folate in their blood, the unborn baby can develop autism.
Fortunately, expectant women who take less than 400 micrograms of folate daily are unlikely to have extremely high levels of un-metabolized folate in their systems. Therefore, expectant mothers should ensure they don’t cross the 400 mcg folic acid threshold.
Immune System Degradation
A high dose of folate supplements can degrade the immune system, lowering the effectiveness of natural killer cells. When the effectiveness of these cells drops, people are at risk of a multitude of infections.
As indicated above, folic acid effectively prevents some cancers like breast and colon cancer. However, it can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Some observational studies note that high folic acid levels can cause prostate cancer cells to grow and progress.
In conclusion, folic acid, or vitamin B9, is essential for both adults and kids. This vitamin helps prevent specific issues, among them congenital disabilities and cardiovascular disease. But, when taken in large quantities, it can cause side effects like autism and prostate cancer.