There are a myriad of folate benefits

Folate benefits include supporting cardiovascular health, treating hearing loss, and treating depression.

It is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 that is called folic acid when synthesized as a nutritional supplement.

Folate is found in whole grains, asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms. Federal law mandates that manufacturers fortify refined grain food products (such as breakfast cereals) with folic acid to replace the amount removed during processing.

Folate is perhaps most well-known for its role in fetal development, but it is also important during aging as a nutrient working synergistically with other B-complex vitamins to convert glucose to energy, which is essential for brain and nervous systems function.

Folate and aging

Oxidation

Oxidation is an additional age-related disease precursor, which environmental pollutants and the over-burdening of the body’s natural stores of antioxidants exacerbate.

Healthy cells are damaged when oxygen circulates in the body, and the resulting free radicals are normally neutralized by the body’s antioxidant defense system.

In modern times, however, the sheer high-level load of toxins in the environment resulting from stress increases the number of free radical induced mutations in healthy DNA, which if left untreated replicate and develop disease.

To compensate for the extra oxidative damage, supplementing with dietary or nutraceutical antioxidants is necessary to help prevent cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Folate benefits include lowering homocysteine levels and therefore improving cardiovascular health. Reducing homocysteine may reduce heart attack occurrences by 11% and strokes by 19%, according to research.

Insulin

Normal insulin functionality is particularly significant after mid-life to normalize energy use, enhance cognitive function, prevent metabolic syndrome, and lower acute and chronic high blood glucose, which impacts the prevalence of diabetes, obesity, mental health and other health issues.

Numerous studies show folate benefits include significantly improving conditions for those whose blood insulin levels are imbalanced. A 5 mg daily folic acid supplementation with vitamin B12 for 8 weeks has demonstrated improved insulin sensitivity.

Cardiovascular disease

For decades, cardiovascular disease has had the highest mortality worldwide compared to all other health problems. It can have numerous causes, but one that folate benefits is pathological blood clotting, which blocks arteries and increases the risk of cardiac arrest.

Folic acid reduces homocysteine concentrations and removes the threat of oxidation, a primary cause of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends taking 400 mcg of folic acid, 2 mg of vitamin B6, and 6 mcg of vitamin B12 to lower homocysteine levels.

Hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss is related to losing hair cells in the cochlea, which arises with age.

A group of patients who took 800 mcg of folic acid twice daily experienced better comparative hearing by five decibels for a twenty year period, research shows.

If applied to the general population, folic acid supplementation could reduce the proportion of men using hearing aids at age 75 from 33% to 22%.

Major depression

Major depression is uncommon in many older, healthy adults. But for those who require home health care or hospitalization due to medical problems, the outlook for mental health is less positive.

Depression occurs in as much as 13% of the unhealthy, aged population. Some studies have demonstrated that 15-38% of depression patients have low folate levels, and taking 500 mcg of folic acid daily improved the effectiveness of Prozac.

Do I have a folate deficiency?

The causes of folate deficiency include low dietary folate intake, alcoholism and intestinal absorption issues, such as irritable bowel disease or chronic diarrhea.

It can also result in gingivitis, tongue inflammation, diarrhea, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, irritability, mental sluggishness, and forgetfulness.

How can I add folate to my diet?

Leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and lettuce are good sources of folate.

Other common sources include asparagus, okra, mushrooms, fruits, meat (such as beef liver and kidney), beans, whole grains, fortified cereals, orange juice, and tomato juice.

The average folate content of significant dietary sources is 130 to 400 mcg per serving, and the daily requirement is 400 mcg per day. Folate is also available as a folic acid dietary supplement.

How much folate should I take?

The tolerable upper intake level is 1,000 mcg daily. It is water soluble, and doesn’t accumulate in the body; however, you should discuss a higher therapeutic dose with a health practitioner to avoid potential side effects or interactions.

A 1,200 mcg dose in cardiovascular disease trials has proven effective.

Side effects

Side effects from folic acid are rare, but high doses can cause stomach problems, sleep problems, skin reactions, and seizures.

Limiting the dosage to 1,000 mcg daily can ensure you get folate benefits but not the side effects. An absence of stomach problems, sleep problems, skin reactions, and seizures after consistent use indicates you’re taking the correct level, although talking to your doctor might be necessary.

Contraindications

The following medications can interfere with normal folate levels in the body:

  • Antacids/H2 blockers such as ranitidine (Zantac), cimetidine (Tagamet), and famotidine (Pepcid)
  • Anti-seizure medications such as phenobarbital and carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • Proton pump inhibitors including someprazole (Nexium and rabeprazole (Aciphex)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxed (Aleve)
  • Bile acid sequestrants such as cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Triamterene (Dyrenium)
  • Cycloserine; Pyrimethamine (Daraprim)
  • Trimethoprim
  • Methotrexate

References

  1. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid).” June 29, 2011. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/vitamin-b9-000338.htm
  2. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Center. “Folic Acid.” September 2007. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/fa/
  3. Barbari, B.P., et al. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. “Effect of Folic Acid Supplementation on Biochemical Indices in Overweight and Obese Men with Type 2 Diabetes.” October 2011.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802161
  4. Bazanno, L.A. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. “Folic Acid Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease: The State of the Art.” July 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593104
  5. Dobie, Robert A., M.D. Annals of Internal Medicine. “Folate Supplementation and Age-Related Hearing Loss.” January 2, 2007. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=477598

Last reviewed 18/July/2017

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