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What Are the Benefits of Folic Acid?

Legumes contain folic acid.
Leafy green vegetables are a good source of folic acid.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2014
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There are many benefits of folic acid, and some of them cannot be stressed enough as extremely valuable in promoting health. Most importantly, it has been clearly proven that folic acid is aids in the prevention of birth defects when it is taken prior to conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. It's always a good idea to understand that claims about a supplement can be made on different levels, however. There are other medically proven benefits as well as claims that have been disproved, which makes it important to understand what's known and accepted and what isn't.

Given its potential to protect the health of newborns, medical professionals strongly advocate that women begin taken folic acid supplements three months prior to the time they plan to conceive. This vitamin has been shown to reduce a certain group of defects called neural tube defects, which result in conditions like spina bifida. The evidence only gets better here, because studies published in 2009 suggest that it may also play a role in preventing some heart defects and in preventing premature births.

There are some other potential benefits of folic acid. It does appear to decrease chances of people getting high blood pressure because it relaxes blood vessels. Due to lower blood pressure, the supplement may be indicated as good stroke prevention. It also may act to reduce signs of aging by helping people to retain memory and mental acuity.

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Another of the claims is that folic acid may have a role in regulating mood, especially when taken with other B vitamins. It reduces homocysteine levels, which are found in greater amount in depressed people. Whether the use of this vitamin alone would fully end depression is not proven, however.

It’s often claimed that folic acid may also help prevent cancer, especially breast and pancreatic cancer. As beneficial as this supplement may be, the evidence on this claim is not conclusive, and recent studies have found no cancer preventative benefits exist. In addition, men who take the vitamin may have an increased risk of prostate cancer, though this matter needs more study.

As good as folic acid may be — and it has been added to a huge number of enriched grains and cereals that are commonly available — there are some concerns with taking it as a supplement. In addition to the possibility that it might elevate some cancer risk, it seems to also mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is called pernicious anemia. Not only may this masking affect occur, but it may affect absorption of vitamin B12 in all cases.

What this means is that taking folic acid is much like taking any other supplement. It can be truly helpful, but it may not come without a price. Taking more of it than recommended may be particularly harmful instead of promoting better health.

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Discuss this Article

anon155501
Post 6

I am 63 years old, and had a stroke in 2006. Will i benefit from taking b6, b12, folic acid? will they interact with meds. I do little workouts at the y.m.c.a.

anon148893
Post 5

great information! who would've known that folic acid is that great!

anon136501
Post 4

I am just about to start taking folic acid after a friend recommended it as an adjunct to my antidepressants. Like anon71777, once I started taking B vitamins, I began to feel great.

I have been on many different meds for depression and bipolar and still take two low dose meds but once I started a B complex 2 months ago my life changed.

I'm going to start taking the folic acid now as well and see how things go. I'm going to tell my psychiatrist about the vitamins and hope he passes this on to his other patients who are as frustrated as I have been.

ValleyFiah
Post 3

@ parmnparsley - Great information! I do want to point out one important piece of information. The side effects you mentioned are only the result of taking folic acid in supplementary form. Folic Acid is really the synthetic form of folate. Folate is vitamin B9 and is found in many whole foods. Eating more than the recommended dosage of folate in whole foods has no known side effects because it is water soluble; enabling the excess folate to exit the body through the urine. Some of the foods that are thought of as the healthiest contain folate. Folate can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, citrus, mushrooms, and many fortified grains. Folate is also present in large quantities in organ meats. Liver pates and the likes will contain high levels of folate along with iron and protein. It is claimed that folate also aids in the breakdown of triglycerides; making it a potential benefit for the obese and those with type-2 diabetes.

parmnparsley
Post 2

Not only is folic acid very beneficial to women trying to conceive, it is important for men’s health as well. Folic acid aids the body in metabolizing the amino acid homocysteine; an amino acid that has a direct impact on heart disease. Folic acid also aids in the metabolism and creation of other amino acids as well as the creation of red blood cells and DNA. Folic acid is also important for those that work out because it enhances the metabolic rate and, combined with the other B vitamins, increases cell growth and division. Ultimately, the end result is an improved immune system and increased recovery times. It is important to reiterate what the article stated about taking only the recommended dosage. More than 1000 micrograms can have a negative effect on the body; potentially causing seizures, skin problems, and sleep disorders.

anon71777
Post 1

I'm 69 and have had serious depression, tiredness, apathy etc since 2001. I started adding b6, b12 and folic acid to my supplements less than a month ago and I can't believe how great I feel mentally, physically and emotionally! I had given up ever feeling good again.

Now, I am doing all the things I used to do with enthusiasm and energy that I thought was long gone. It has to be that threesome-I have tried every antidepressant, therapy. etc possible and this is working for me.

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