Folic acid is part of the vitamin B family, commonly known as B9. This vitamin is not naturally found in the body, so it must be consumed in order to keep the body’s processes functioning at peak efficiency. Folic acid can be consumed in citrus juices or fruits, legumes, dark leafy greens, beans, liver, whole grains, poultry, shellfish or as folate in a supplement. Failing to get a sufficient level of folic acid can cause your body to suffer from vitamin deficiency.
Folic Acid Benefits
1. Prevent Birth Defects
Folic acid is commonly recommended to pregnant women because it can help to prevent unborn child from developing birth defects. Folic acid acts as a co-enzyme in the synthesis of RNA and DNA, which is essential to the division and replication of cells. Consuming folic acid when you are trying to conceive can help the cells replicate properly so your baby will be less likely to develop birth defects.
Pregnant women are typically advised to consume 800 – 100 mcg to get the maximum folic acid benefits. Consuming this vitamin in the three months before you become pregnant can have a significant decrease in potential birth defects, particularly neural tube defect that may become spina bifida or heart defects. Consuming a healthy amount of folic acid can also lower your risk of premature births or stillbirth.
2. Improve Blood Health
Folic acid is the key to increasing production of your red blood cells, helping you to prevent anemia. Folic acid combines with vitamins C and B12 in the body to help your body use, create and break down proteins more efficiently. This allows your body to form red and white blood cells, replicate DNA and form and multiply cells more efficiently.
Managing your red blood cell count can also help keep your blood pressure stable, reducing your risk of extremely high or low blood pressure. Those that suffer from low blood pressure are frequently given folic acid supplements to help prevent the risk of hypotension, stroke or hypertension.
3. Promote Mental Health
One of the folic acid benefits is that it has been found to be helpful in allowing patients to maintain their mental agility and retain their memory. In some cases this vitamin has been found to help balance mood swings by helping to control the temper and eliminating many of the symptoms associated with depression. Folic acid is commonly given to depression patients in conjunction with a B vitamin complex to help balance the patient’s mood along with their other treatment methods.
4. Fight Against Cancers
A strong link has been found between folic acid and colon cancer prevention. Those that suffer from diseases such as ulcerative colitis are at a significantly higher risk of developing cancer. Those with this condition who regularly take folic acid were found to have a greater protection against developing cancerous cells. A similar link has been found between folic acid and cervical, stomach, esophageal and pancreatic cancers. An increase of folic acid intake in the diet is found to be particularly helpful in avoiding cancers, and increasing the intake of this nutrient with supplements is also found to be helpful.
5. Other Folic Acid Benefits
- This vitamin also helps to increase fertility.
- Those who have recently given birth have found that increasing their intake of folic acid also increases their ability to produce breast milk.
- Getting an adequate amount of folic acid in the diet can also help you avoid conditions such as kidney failure or liver disease.
- Folic acid can help to improve brain functioning and development and ward off eye diseases like macular degeneration that occur with age.
- Evidence also suggests that folic acid may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- It has also been found to improve the condition of the skin.
Folic Acid Side Effects
Though folic acid benefits are many, it is important to take the proper amount of this supplement or you may wind up suffering side effects. Talk with your doctor before you start using folic acid supplements to determine if this is a good form of treatment for you. If you begin to show any signs of side effects while taking folic acid, talk to your doctor right away so you can get any necessary treatment.
- Dietary sources and supplements of folic acid should not exceed 1000 mcg a day as this can cause a vitamin B12 deficiency to be masked by correcting the anemia and nerve damage commonly caused by a B12 deficiency.
- Side effects of folic acid are not common when the normal dose is followed. High doses can increase your risk of age-related cardiovascular disease and cognitive problems.
- Other side effects include nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, bloating, gas, bitter taste in the mouth, rash, insomnia, psychotic behavior, zinc deficiency, irritability, excitability or hyperactivity.