What are the Consequences of Taking Too Much Folate?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Legumes contain folate.
Legumes contain folate.

A person may have a B12 deficiency and be completely unaware of this condition due to taking too much folate. When folate is gained from dietary sources, folate overdose is extremely rare. The signs of folate overdose, however, may occur in individuals who are taking folate supplements or who are eating too many foods fortified with folic acid.

Folate, also known as folic acid, is the term used to identify vitamin B in various forms. It is known to help decrease the risk of developing heart disease and is helpful in preventing birth defects. In the United States, folate is commonly added to foods like breads and cereals. While uncommon, too much folate can be obtained from the body via these enriched sources. Folate also occurs naturally in foods like spinach, turnip greens, peas, kidney beans wheat germ and broccoli, but there is no danger in obtaining too much folate from any of these sources.

Curly endive, which contains folate.
Curly endive, which contains folate.

Some who do not get enough folate through food sources are encouraged to supplement their intake of this nutrient with vitamin supplements. Proper levels of folate are particularly important for aging individuals and others at risk of developing heart disease, as well as for pregnant and breastfeeding women. A folate deficiency during pregnancy can lead to poor development of the neural tube surrounding a baby’s spinal cord, brain and central nervous system. This poor development can lead to lifelong disabilities, such as spina bifida, and can even result in stillbirth.

Spinach is packed with folate, an essential B vitamin that is water soluble.
Spinach is packed with folate, an essential B vitamin that is water soluble.

While there is no danger of gaining too much folate when the nutrient is gained through natural food sources, there is a very slight risk of folate overdose occurring when accessing the vitamin from foods fortified with folic acid, and an even greater risk of too much folate being gained by supplements. Folate toxicity may trigger seizures in people with a history of seizures and who are taking medications to control their onset. More commonly, however, too much folate in the body hides symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of birth defects.
Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of birth defects.

Symptoms of a B12 deficiency, which may not get immediate attention due to too much folate, include anemia and neurological damage. This occurs due to folic acid actually correcting a specific type of anemia, known as megaloblastic anemia. What folate doesn’t correct, however, is the neurological damage that a deficiency in vitamin B12 also creates.

Dementia and other neurological damage may be associated with a deficiency of folate, also known as vitamin B12.
Dementia and other neurological damage may be associated with a deficiency of folate, also known as vitamin B12.

Too much folate is of particular concern in aging populations where individuals may use folate supplements to ward off heart disease. This is because signs of a folate overdose, which are masking a vitamin B12 deficiency can also hide symptoms of dementia. While the early signs of mental decline are sometimes difficult to accept, early treatment may help slow the progression of related symptoms. Without early intervention, however, the neurological affects of dementia may progress more rapidly.

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    • Legumes contain folate.
      Legumes contain folate.
    • Curly endive, which contains folate.
      Curly endive, which contains folate.
    • Spinach is packed with folate, an essential B vitamin that is water soluble.
      Spinach is packed with folate, an essential B vitamin that is water soluble.
    • Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of birth defects.
      Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of birth defects.
    • Dementia and other neurological damage may be associated with a deficiency of folate, also known as vitamin B12.
      Dementia and other neurological damage may be associated with a deficiency of folate, also known as vitamin B12.