Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin that is crucial for a number of important health conditions. This essential vitamin is necessary for the correct formation of blood cells, as well as for their DNA synthesis and division.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is found naturally in food. Some foods are high in folate, and these include asparagus, green leafy vegetables, okra, mushrooms, lemons, bananas, melons, yeast, beans, tomato juice, orange juice, and beef liver. Folic acid is added to certain foods such as breads, flour, cold cereals, bakery items, and crackers. Because it can be difficult to get enough folate from the foods you eat, folic acid supplements are another way to reach the recommended daily amount.
1. Preventing Birth Defects
Women who are trying to become pregnant or are currently pregnant are highly encouraged to take in a minimum of .4 mg of folic acid on a daily basis. A folate deficiency has been shown to lead to birth defects, specifically neural tube defects like anencephaly and spina bifida. Because these defects often take place within the first few weeks of pregnancy, all women of conception age are encouraged to work with their doctor to make sure they are getting high enough levels from both their diet and supplements.
Because one of the biggest functions of folic acid is to aid the body in producing and maintaining new cells, the formation of red blood cells is dependent on the proper levels of this vitamin. Adults and children who do not consume enough of this vitamin have a higher chance of developing anemia.
3. Thyroid Health
Studies have shown that low levels of folate can lead to hypothyroidism. A patient who has hypothyroidism usually has high levels of the amino acid homocysteine, and folic acid is needed to breakdown this acid. Increased amounts of folic acid can help lower the levels of homocysteine, which in turn can prevent hypothyroidism. It has also been shown that patients who are taking thyroid hormone replacement do not fully recover from hypothyroid symptoms if they are deficient in folic acid.
4. Heart Disease and Stroke
Just as homocysteine plays a role in hypothyroidism, high levels of this amino acid are also linked to stroke and heart disease. People who have homocysteine blood levels higher than 11 micromoles/L are highly encouraged to supplement with folic acid as well as vitamin B12. In regards to stroke, research has shown that folic acid is more beneficial with hemorrhagic strokes (blood vessel ruptures) as opposed to ischemic stroke (blood clots). Studies have shown that folic acid supplements can also significantly reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
5. Kidney Disease
The majority of people who have serious kidney disease also have high homocysteine levels. Taking the right amount of folic acid can help prevent kidney issues and improve the outlook of those who are currently suffering from kidney disease.
6. Vision and Hearing
As people age, vision loss tends to increase, which is also known as age-related macular degeneration. There is some research that shows that supplementing with folic acid and other B vitamins such as B6 and B12 may reduce the risk of this vision loss.
There is also evidence that shows that sudden hearing loss is related to low blood levels of folate. Older people who take folic acid supplements on a daily basis have a slower rate of hearing loss than those who don’t.
Although more studies need to be done, there is limited research that implies that folic acid may help to improve symptoms in individuals who have been medically diagnosed with depression. These studies tested folic acid when taken in conjunction with antidepressants.
8. Gum Issues
There is limited research that shows that folic acid may be beneficial for a number of gum problems. One study tested the effect of folic acid on gum problems that were caused by taking the prescription drug Phenytoin. Folic acid was also tested on pregnant women with gum disease, and it seemed to help improve the condition. In both situations, the folic acid was applied directly to the gums. Taking folic acid orally did not seem to make a positive change.
The jury is still out, but there is some evidence that folic acid may be beneficial in regards to different types of cancer. The theory is that higher levels of the vitamin may help cells resist DNA changes that are linked with the development of different cancers. With breast cancer, some studies have shown that consuming folate, high amounts of vitamins B6 and B12, and high levels of methionine may lower the risk of getting it.
Other types of cancer that may benefit from folic acid include cervical, colorectal, esophageal, stomach, and pancreatic. More research needs to be conducted to see how folic acid supplementation can help with other kinds of cancer such as prostate, lung, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
10. Alzheimer’s Disease
There is some evidence that older individuals who take in higher levels of folic acid have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. It has also been shown to decrease age-related decline in thinking skills and memory.
While more research needs to be done on how folic acid is beneficial for certain health conditions, the supplement is recommended on a daily basis because of its basic healing properties. However, toxicity can occur, which is why you want to consult with a healthcare professional to make sure that you are getting the right amount. The FDA considers the supplements safe, they are inexpensive, and can be obtained without a prescription.