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Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid

Posted on 09. Nov, 2010 by .

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9, is critical to many body processes, including the health of your nervous system, blood, and cells. It protects against heart disease, birth defects, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.


Folic acid protects the body against, and helps treat, many disorders, including the following.

  • Birth defects. Low levels of folic acid have been linked with birth defects. Half of neural tube defects (such as spina bifida) are believed to be preventable if women of childbearing age supplement their diets with folic acid. Studies suggest that the amount of folic acid needed to prevent neural tube defects is more easily reached with supplements than from dietary sources alone.
  • Heart attacks and stroke. Folic acid is essential to a process that clears a substance called homocysteine from the blood. High homocysteine levels have been linked with increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Cancers. Low levels of folic acid may play a role in cancer development, particularly cancers of the cervix, lung, and colon.
  • Osteoporosis. Lack of folic acid, and the resulting increase in homocysteine levels, weakens bones, making them more likely to fracture.
  • Depression and other mental problems. Folic acid is important for brain function. It helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. Increasing levels of folic acid has reversed negative mental or psychological symptoms in some people, particularly older people. Folic acid has a mild antidepressant effect, and taking folic acid supplements has been shown to improve the effect of the drug Prozac.

Folic acid is also beneficial in the following ways: prevents anemia, which can decrease the function and number of red blood cells, helps treat headaches, may relieve rheumatoid arthritis, can help with infertility treatment, may help acne, and may be useful for people with AIDS.

Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental and emotional health. It aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and is especially important when cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy. Folic acid also works closely with vitamin B12 to regulate the formation of red blood cells and help iron function properly in the body.

Vitamin B9 works with vitamins B6 and B12 and other nutrients to control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with certain chronic conditions, such as heart disease and, possibly, depression and Alzheimer’s disease, although the link isn’t clear.

Mild folic acid deficiency is fairly common. Alcoholism, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease can cause folic acid deficiency. Also, certain medications may lower levels of folic acid in the body. Folic acid deficiency can cause poor growth, tongue inflammation, gingivitis, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, diarrhea, irritability, forgetfulness, and mental sluggishness.

Pregnant women require more folic acid. Lower levels of folic acid during pregnancy are associated with low birth weight and increased risk of neural tube defects, including cleft palate, spina bifida, and brain damage. Neural tube defects are birth defects caused by abnormal development of the neural tube, a structure that eventually gives rise to the brain and spinal cord. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the addition of folic acid to many grain foods (such as bread and cereal), neural tube defects in the United States have decreased dramatically.

Birth Defects

As mentioned, pregnant women who are deficient in folic acid are more likely to have children with birth defects. Pregnant women should get 600 mcg of folic acid per day. Women who plan to become pregnant should make sure to get the recommended 400 mcg per day, since many neural tube defects can occur shortly after conception (before a woman may even know she is pregnant). Prenatal vitamins contain the necessary amount of folic acid for pregnant women.

Studies show that women who take folic acid supplements before conception and during the first trimester may reduce their risk of having children with neural tube defects by 72 – 100%.

Folic acid may also help prevent miscarriage, although the evidence isn’t clear.

Heart Disease

Folate may help protect the heart through several methods. First, there is some evidence that getting enough folic acid in your diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, although this evidence is based on population studies and not more definitive clinical trials.

In addition, because folic acid helps control levels of homocysteine in the body, and because homocysteine levels tend to be high in people with heart disease, some researchers theorize that lowering levels of homocysteine may help prevent heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Collectively, many studies indicate that patients with elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine are roughly 1.7 times more likely to develop coronary artery disease (which can lead to a heart attack) and 2.5 times more likely to suffer from a stroke than those with normal levels. However, researchers don’t yet know whether high levels of homocysteine actually cause heart disease, or whether something else causes heart disease as well as high homocysteine levels. Until more is known, researchers aren’t sure whether lowering homocysteine levels has any effect on heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends that, for most people, an adequate amount of folate and these other B vitamins be obtained from the diet, rather than taking extra supplements. However, if you have high levels of homocysteine or a history (or family history) of heart disease, ask your doctor whether folic acid supplements are right for you.

Age-related Hearing Loss

One study suggests that folic acid supplements help slow the progression of age-related hearing loss in elderly people with high homocysteine levels and low folate in their diet. It isn’t known whether healthy seniors would benefit.


Some studies show that 15 – 38% of people with depression have low folate levels in their bodies, and those with very low levels tend to be the most depressed. Low levels of folic acid have also been associated with a poor response to antidepressants. However, more research is needed to understand the link; it appears that folic acid may help enhance the effect of antidepressants, at least in some people, but folic acid itself is not a replacement for antidepressants.


Folic acid appears to protect against the development of some forms of cancer, particularly cancer of the colon, as well as breast, cervical, pancreatic, and stomach. However, this evidence is based on population studies that show people who get enough folate in their diet have lower rates of these cancers. It is not clear exactly how folate might help prevent cancer. Some researchers speculate that folic acid keeps DNA (the genetic material in cells) healthy and prevents mutations that can lead to cancer. There is no evidence that taking folic acid supplements helps prevent cancer. The best course of action is to make sure you eat a balanced diet with enough folate, which will help protect you against a number of diseases.

Low dietary intake of folate may increase the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly for women who drink alcohol. Regular use of alcohol (more than 1 ½ to 2 glasses per day) is associated with increased risk of breast cancer. One large study, involving over 50,000 women who were followed over time, suggests that adequate intake of folate may lessen the risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol.

Dietary Sources:

Rich sources of folate include spinach, dark leafy greens, asparagus, turnip, beets, and mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, soybeans, beef liver, brewer’s yeast, root vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, bulgur wheat, kidney beans, white beans, lima beans, mung beans, salmon, orange juice, avocado, and milk. In addition, all grain and cereal products in the U.S. are fortified with folic acid.

Available Forms:

Vitamin B9 is found in multivitamins (including children’s chewable and liquid drops) and B complex vitamins, or is sold individually. It is a good idea to take folic acid as part of or along with a multivitamin because other B vitamins are needed for its activation. It is available in a variety of forms, including tablets, softgels, and lozenges.

How to Take It:

Most people (except pregnant women) should be able to get adequate folic acid from their diet.

It is important to check with a knowledgeable health care provider before taking folic acid supplements or giving them to a child.

Daily recommendations for dietary folic acid are listed below:


  • Infants under 6 months: 65 mcg (adequate intake)
  • Infants 7 – 12 months: 80 mcg (adequate intake)
  • Children 1 – 3 years: 150 mcg (RDA)
  • Children 4 – 8 years: 200 mcg (RDA)
  • Children 9 – 13 years: 300 mcg (RDA)
  • Adolescents 14 – 18 years: 400 mcg (RDA)


  • 19 years and older: 400 mcg (RDA)
  • Pregnant women: 600 mcg (RDA)
  • Breastfeeding women: 500 mcg (RDA)

Amounts recommended for heart disease range from 400 – 1,200 mcg. However, high levels of folate can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, and should be taken only under a doctor’s supervision.

Sources of Folic Acid

  • Leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Liver
  • Dry beans and peas
  • Fortified cereals and grain products
  • Fortified juices

Can You Have Too Much or Too Little?
Folate deficiency can cause diarrhea, anemia, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore tongue and a variety of other symptoms. In a developing fetus, folic acid deficiency may cause birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

People who drink large amounts of alcohol may need extra folic acid to prevent a deficiency. Sometimes, treatment of anemia with folic acid will mask an anemia caused by a vitamin B2 deficiency. Always consult with your doctor before taking a large amount of any vitamin supplement.

Vitamin Storage
If you want to get the most vitamins possible from your food, refrigerate fresh produce and keep milk and grains away from strong light. Vitamins are easily destroyed and washed out during food preparation and storage. If you take vitamin supplements, store them at room temperature in a dry place that’s free of moisture.

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