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Folic Acid: Benefits, Side Effects & Foods

There are a huge number of vitamins and minerals that humans need for the body to function properly, and folic acid is one of those essential nutrients. 

There are a number of reasons to take folic acid, especially if you’re a woman trying to get pregnant or someone with a deficiency. We need folate for healthy brain function and healthy hair, and it can also be beneficial for treating depression, schizophrenia, and diabetes. 

Health and nutrition are a big part of everyday life. Why not learn more about it with OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course? Download our latest course prospectus for more information on all our other courses.

The topics we’ll cover in this guide include answers to “what is folic acid used for?” and what the common side effects and benefits of folic acid are, as well as the following areas:

Let’s jump in!

What is Folic Acid?

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Folic acid is a manufactured and water-soluble B vitamin that can be consumed from both fortified foods and supplements. 

If you’re wondering; is folate folic acid?, the answer to this is simple. Folic acid is the manufactured version of folate (otherwise known as vitamin B9), and the two are generally interchangeable. 

The main difference is that folic acid is synthetic, and is more often used as a supplement or to fortify foods. 

Other than this, you only need to know that they have slightly different chemical structures and pathways within the body. It is accepted that folic acid and folate have pretty much the same purposes, and they both contribute to the bodily concentrations of folate.

So, why do we need folic acid and folate?

Folate acts within the body to help synthesise DNA and other key genetic material. It is also essential in the process of cell division, which is required for growth and development. 

It plays a key role in the formation of healthy red blood cells. In people with folate deficiency, their red blood cells can be too large which then results in the sub-optimal transport of chemicals, such as oxygen, within the blood. 

Folate cannot be produced by the body, meaning we have to obtain it through dietary sources in order to maintain sufficient levels of it. 

During periods of high demand, your body may require higher levels of folate. This can easily be remedied through folic acid supplements, as this is then converted into folate by the body. 

“About 85% of supplemental folic acid, when taken with food, is bioavailable. When consumed without food, nearly 100% of supplemental folic acid is bioavailable”, as stated by the National Institute of Health

Folate found in natural foods only has around a 50% absorption rate. However, eating folate rich foods means you’ll also be receiving the other vitamins and minerals contained within that food, which will give a boost to your general health.

Health Benefits of Folic Acid

As an essential part of many biological functions, both folic acid and folate have a number of benefits to our general health.

#1 - Promotes Healthy Brain Function

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Poor brain function has been linked to low folate levels, and this could be due to its role in reducing the levels of peripheral inflammatory cytokines

Cytokines are a type of small proteins that function as cell signals, aiding in maintaining immunity and stabilising inflammation. However, an overproduction of cytokines can result in impaired cognitive functions. 

Folic acid deficiency in the elderly has been linked to the development of cognitive disorders such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Studies have shown that supplementing folic acid can have significant positive effects on older adults with a mild cognitive impairment. Some combination studies have shown that including folic acid with Alzheimer’s medication gave more beneficial results than when the medication was given in isolation.  

Currently, in the UK, 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 has dementia, so being able to contribute to the delay or combatting of this condition is one of the most important folic acid benefits.

Another natural supplement that can improve cognitive function is milk thistle.

#2 - Contributes to the Treatment of Depression Disorders

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Folate is necessary for the effective function of certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine. As a result, folate and folic acid deficiency is linked to several psychological disorders.

Folate has an essential role in breaking down homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that can cause blood clots and arterial damage if levels become too high in the body. High levels of this amino acid are also associated with depression.

If you need more information on amino acids, check out our guide on the benefits, structure, and foods of amino acids here.

Increasing folic acid levels can therefore combat high amounts of homocysteine, potentially reducing the damaging effects. Additionally, people with low levels have been shown to have more resistance to antidepressant treatments, so increasing these levels could help in that way too.

Many studies have shown that the co-administration of antidepressants and folic acid for depression has positive results when compared to the medication alone. 

In the UK, around 20% of the population suffers from some form of depression. Being able to help this through natural folic acid sources (as well as supplements) could be advantageous to a lot of people.

#3 - Treatment of Schizophrenia

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As well as having a positive impact on the efficacy of antidepressants, folic acid supplementation has been seen to enhance the benefits of antipsychotic treatments, reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia. 

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that often displays symptoms such as hallucinations, apathy, and cognitive and emotional impairment. Many antipsychotic medications can only treat the effects of hallucinations, however, and don’t remedy cognitive impairments.

Studies have shown that 78% of schizophrenic patients have a folate deficiency, and other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of supplementing with folic acid in order to combat this deficiency in conjunction with schizophrenia.

This is partly because folate has been directly linked to altered single-carbon metabolism and its role in the development and function of schizophrenia.

However, evidence to support the overall benefits of folic acid supplementation on reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia is limited. It has only been seen to be effective in those with certain genetic variations, so more research is needed in this area. 

#4 - Reduces Risks Of Heart Disease

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Folate plays an important role in the formation of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. 

Ineffective red blood cells mean that the heart and circulatory system are required to work harder to pump larger quantities of blood around the body. This means that they struggle to deliver the same levels of oxygen that are seen within a healthy system. 

This increase in cardiac stress and blood pressure can contribute to heart disease, but maintaining sufficient folate in your system helps to combat these dangers as the number of healthy red blood cells transporting oxygen around the body is increased. 

Folate also helps to metabolise homocysteine (as we mentioned earlier), which if too concentrated can lead to arterial damage and heart disease, as well as psychological disorders such as depression. 

Studies have shown that supplementing folic acid can have a 10% reduction in the risk of a stroke, as well as a 4% reduction of cardiovascular disease.

For another handy supplement that can help boost your heart health, take a look at the benefits of cod liver oil.

#5 - Beneficial to Diabetics

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Studies have shown that folic acid supplementation can help to regulate blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance in diabetic subjects, particularly for type 2 sufferers who regularly take Metformin.

Folic acid supplements are also proven to aid in reducing the risk of diabetic neuropathy due to their ability to reduce homocysteine levels. In case you didn’t already know, diabetic neuropathy is another name for the nerve damage that occurs from high blood sugar levels, and is commonly seen in the feet.

Additionally, the benefits of folic acid for cardiovascular health relate directly to those that it provides for diabetics, as heart health is often impacted during the development of diabetes and in managing its effects. 

Taking folic acid during pregnancy can also help to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, which is a form of diabetes that occurs during the second or third trimester of pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby is born. 

Unfortunately, gestational diabetes can increase the risk of cardiovascular complications in the mother later on in life, and has also been linked to obesity during both the childhood and adulthood of the baby.

Insulin resistance is also linked to low folic acid levels in the body, meaning that blood sugar levels are harder to maintain at a healthy number due to the insulin not being used effectively. The benefits of folic acid for those experiencing this therefore include combatting resistance to insulin. 

Did you know that drinking green tea can also improve insulin sensitivity? If not then read our guide on the benefits, side effects, and dosage of green tea now!

#6 - Reduces Effects of Inflammation

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The folic acid health benefits also include reduced inflammation within the body, and this links back to the cytokines we mentioned earlier on. The overproduction of cytokines also results in inflammation, with folic acid being able to reduce the effects of this.

Inflammation within the body is particularly dangerous and can lead to illnesses such as cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, and alzheimers. 

In certain populations who suffer from clinical inflammation, folic acid supplementation has been seen to have a reducing effect, for example a study in the journal of Clinical Endocrinology found that: 

“folate supplementation (5 mg/d) in women with PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] had beneficial effects on inflammatory factors and biomarkers of oxidative stress.” (Bahmani et al., 2014)

Folic acid supplements can help more general cases of inflammation, as well as more serious conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, and even epilepsy.

The exact reasoning behind these findings is still unknown, with an article in the Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism stating that:

“data from animal and human studies examining the influence of folate supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers is inconsistent and varies significantly based on factors such as timing of intervention (i.e., preventative vs. treatment interventions), folate dose, levels of other dietary factors, and genetic variance in folate enzymes.” (Jones et al., 2019)

Fortunately, there is a whole body of research that has proven the efficacy of supplementation with folic acid in reducing inflammation, with a study in the journal of Immunometabolism: Molecular Mechanisms, Diseases, and Therapies stating that:

“Folic acid supplementation improved disease outcomes in subjects with hypertension, diabetes, and stroke by reducing levels of inflammatory markers” (Samblas, Martínez and Milagro, 2018).

More research is being done into the exact mechanisms behind this folic acid function, yet the result is still beneficial to the body! 

#7 - Contributes To Healthy Hair

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Due to folate’s role in the production and maintenance of cells, having healthy amounts of it within your body can have a positive effect on the condition of your hair.

As we mentioned earlier, the higher the levels of folate within the body, the more effective the red blood cells are at transporting oxygen to where it is needed. The increased flow of oxygen to the hair follicles will promote the production of keratin, which is the main component in the structure of hair.

Many people claim that the alleged benefits of taking folic acid for hair growth are due to the improved conditions often seen in pregnant women that are supplementing with folic acid tablets or liquid. 

However, it is worth noting that symptoms of folic acid deficiency don’t usually include hair loss or poor hair growth. This means that it is more likely that having a complete and healthy diet and ensuring that your intake of all essential nutrients, including folic acid, will improve the health of your hair.

If you need another source of nutrients that will boost the health of your hair then read through our benefits of blueberries article for more information. 

Download our FREE food diary here: you'll be able to track your diet and your supplement intake!

What Causes Folic Acid Deficiency?

Folate is important in the healthy function of your body in everyday life, and a folic acid deficiency in your own body will become apparent (through the symptoms detailed below) and with treatment can generally be managed and treated appropriately.

Folic acid deficiency is usually more of a problem in women looking to get pregnant, or women currently pregnant, as folate has an essential role in foetal development: it can have irreversible developmental impacts on an unborn child.

Causes of a deficiency in this B vitamin can be varied, with some of the main causes discussed below.

#1 - Insufficient Dietary Intake

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This is rare, as there are plenty of foods rich in folic acid. 

Citrus fruits are good sources of folic acid - adding some of the top superfruits into your diet can significantly improve your general health!

If you are on a medically restrictive diet or following specific food limiting diets, then you may put yourself at risk of low folic acid levels. 

Infants who are not fed fortified milks may also suffer from poor dietary intake. Always read the labels of products, and consult your doctor if you are making non-standard dietary decisions.

#2 - Malabsorption

Even if you consume the recommended normal folic acid levels in your diet, some people may struggle to absorb sufficient quantities. 

This can be due to age, gastrointestinal problems or poor liver function. Some medications used can also have a detrimental impact on the absorption of folate into the body from the gastrointestinal tract. 

Always read the side effects of medications and be sure to consult your doctor if you are concerned.

#3 - Age

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The function of your gastrointestinal tract can often be reduced after the age of about 65, which can result in the poor absorption of nutrients, including folic acid. 

As you age it is very important to be aware of your dietary requirements and limitations. 

As the body’s ability to compensate and draw nutrients from other sources depletes, you will need to be more supportive of your body to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

#4 - Damage To The Liver

This could be as a result of alcohol intake or abuse, or a variety of medical issues or surgery. 

This damage can be detrimental to methods of folate storage within the liver which can increase the quantities lost through urinary excretion. 

Generally, in these instances your doctor will have made you aware of the requirements for medication and or appropriate supplements. 

Folic Acid Deficiency: Symptoms in Adults

You’re probably wondering, ‘what are the symptoms of folic acid deficiency?

You may require folic acid supplements for a variety of reasons, and there are a few common signs and symptoms that you should be aware of.

Some of these include:

#1 - Tiredness or Lethargy

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One of the main benefits of folic acid (or folate) is that it is involved in the formation of healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Without sufficient oxygen supplies your body will not be able to regulate energy expenditure, resulting in feelings of exhaustion and fatigue.

#2 - Muscle Weakness

Similarly to the reason mentioned above, without sufficient oxygen supplies your muscle function will be depleted. This will result in weakness and abnormal muscle function, such as dexterity issues and tremors.

If you need another natural supplement to help with muscle weakness then check out OriGym’s Beta-Alanine guide.

#3 - Psychological Problems

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Oxygen is vital for all functions within the body and as a result, folate deficiency can display as judgement issues, confusion, memory impairment, comprehension issues, or depression. 

Folate deficiencies are closely linked to anemia: anemia is when the body has a low number of red blood cells, which causes symptoms such as headaches, aches and pains, shortness of breath, and more. Anemia is more prevalent in adolescent women due to the change in hormones and bodily functions and is more often overlooked because of this. 

Be sure to consider all contributing factors before overlooking particular symptoms.

#4 - Gastrointestinal Problems

Side effects including diarrhoea, stomach pains and indigestion can be caused by a folate deficiency. To exacerbate the situation these symptoms can also induce folate deficiency due to poor nutritional absorption and loss of appetite.

One of the benefits of L-Glutamine is that it can improve your gut health and help with gastrointestinal problems, among other things!

#5 - Neurological problems

Folate’s involvement in neurotransmitter function can result in deficiency being seen through abnormal sensations felt throughout the body, including pins and needles, numbness and burning sensations. 

These symptoms are often concentrated on the extremities of your body, such as your hands and feet.

#6 - Breathing difficulties

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The poor oxygen transport within the body may result in feelings of shortness of breath or shallow breathing.

#7 - Increased Heart Rate

Linked to the previous symptoms of low folic acid, shallow breathing can result in the heart increasing its contraction rate in order to pump more blood around the body, as each pump is effectively contributing less oxygen to the body. 

#8 - Unhealthy Skin

Blood flow is directly linked to the appearance of your skin. You may notice this as a pale, pallid complexion or it may express itself as red flaky skin, either are possible side effects of folate deficiency.

For a natural addition to your regular diet, and a plant-based way to fight off anemia, try eggplant! We’ve got a great guide on the benefits and uses of eggplant.

#9 - Masking of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

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Vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 (folate) function in very similar ways in the body, contributing to the formation of healthy red blood cells. By increasing your intake of folate you can unwittingly give false markers of improvement in a B12 deficiency without directly addressing the issue. Unfortunately, this can lead to cognitive and cardiac issues if left untreated. 

This list of signs and symptoms is not extensive and folate deficiency can express itself in a variety of ways. Not one of these symptoms attributes itself solely to folate deficiency. 

As a result, if you are experiencing any of the signs mentioned above you should consult your doctor and mention the possibility of folate deficiency to ensure they conduct all tests necessary. 

Folate deficiency expresses itself in adults with relatively limited side effects, with generally reversible and manageable symptoms folate deficiency is not a hugely damaging occurrence, if caught and treated. 

Folic acid deficiency in men displays the same symptoms and side effects as it does in women, as this vitamin is essential to all human life!

Folic Acid Deficiency Treatment

Some genetic variations and abnormalities may lead to poor folate metabolism within your body, such as the C677T mutation and Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), amongst others. 

These variations cannot necessarily be treated by an increased supplementation of folic acid or folate as the metabolic pathway does not work effectively, in these cases your doctor may offer combination prescriptions to work around the issue. 

These prescriptions will be personalised and varied to meet your individual requirements so it is essential to follow the precise advice you are given for you and you alone. Folic acid tablets (5mg) can be bought over the counter, while higher doses can only be prescribed by a doctor.

Side Effects of Folic Acid

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The side effects related to recommended levels of folate supplementation are few and far between, although some people have reported, feeling sick, bloated, flatulent, or a loss of appetite. 

These side effects are rare and generally short lived.

Although safe for most, you should consult your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

  • An allergic reaction to any medication in the past 
  • Have cancer
  • Have pernicious anaemia,
  • Have low vitamin B12
  • Have a stent in your heart
  • Are undergoing haemodialysis

In rare cases folic acid use can cause anaphylaxis, so if you have a history of allergic reactions you should consult a medical professional before supplementing anything.

Low Folic Acid Levels

Low folic acid levels symptoms manifest in many of the same ways as the symptoms of folic acid deficiency. This includes tiredness, muscle weakness, feelings such as pins and needles and tingling. 

Recommended Daily Amount 

The recommended daily amount of folate for adults is approximately 400mcg. The recommended folic acid pregnancy dose is from 400mcg up to 800mcg, but this should be discussed with a doctor.

Those who need prescription medication will receive the recommended dose of folic acid from their doctor. 

Most people will be able to get the right amounts from their diet. For example, one orange holds around 40 to 50 mcg of folate, a slice of fortified white bread has around 35mcg per slice, and a cup of green peas can contain up to 100mcg.

Another supplement, produced from protein extracted from yellow peas, that can provide some great benefits is pea protein. Check out our guide on pea protein here, or for some great products have a look at our top 15 pea protein powders.

Folic Acid in Pregnancy

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A common question about this supplement is “why do pregnant women need folic acid?

During pregnancy, the body’s requirement for folate is massively increased due to the huge amounts of cell growth and development occurring within the womb.

Deficiencies at this critical early stage of infant life can be life changing, or even fatal for the child. 

Always consider supplementation of folic acid before pregnancy. If this has not been possible, then you should immediately discuss appropriate supplementation with your doctor or a medical professional as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.

How Much Folic Acid To Take During Pregnancy?

Generally, it is recommended that women trying for a baby or currently pregnant should supplement 400-800mcg of folic acid every day until they are 12 weeks pregnant, in addition to their healthy dietary intake. 

This quantity can vary for each individual and you should always discuss specific requirements with a medical professional. This is especially important as there are some conditions that require a higher dose of folic acid, for example if the mother is diabetic, or if there is any family history of spina bifida, so always check with your doctor.

Due to the pivotal role that folate plays in the healthy development of a child, pregnant women are the most critical targets for folic acid supplementation and all women of child-bearing age and considering pregnancy should supplement folic acid as appropriate. 

Unfortunately, during pregnancy, the results of folate deficiency can directly impact the development of your child; this is why folic acid supplementation in pregnancy is so important.

Download our free food diary as well so you can keep track of all your nutrient intake with ease!

When To Take Folic Acid When Pregnant

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If you are pregnant then it is recommended that you take the right folic acid dose everyday (usually 400mcg but your doctor may prescribe a different amount). 

It is usually recommended that you take this until 12 weeks into your pregnancy, as effects of folic acid deficiency usually seen in babies often occur during the first trimester.

It is generally still safe to continue taking folic acid after the first 12 weeks too. In fact, there are some preliminary studies which discuss further benefits of folic acid in pregnancy, including an article in BMC Medicine which concluded that:

“Continued folic acid supplementation in pregnancy beyond the early period recommended to prevent NTD [neural tube defects] may have beneficial effects on child cognitive development. Further randomized trials in pregnancy with follow-up in childhood are warranted.” (McNulty et al., 2019)

Their tests showed improved cognitive function in children that had received longer term folic acid supplementation before birth. Whilst this is hugely positive, be sure to check with your doctor before continuing with more or different supplements.

Folic Acid Pre-Pregnancy

Taking folic acid pills, tablets, or liquid is usually recommended before conception as well, as this will further reduce the likelihood of low folic acid symptoms occurring. 

The recommended dosage remains the same: 400mcg per day.

Does folic acid help you to get pregnant?

Unfortunately, taking folic acid for conception won’t improve your fertility. You should definitely take it when you’re trying to conceive but as we’ve discussed, this is for the health of the baby and not for increasing the likelihood of pregnancy.

What Happens If You Don’t Take Folic Acid During Pregnancy?

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The development of the foetus is so fast that even a very short-term folate deficiency can have detrimental effects on the child.

This is predominantly in relation to the growth of the neural tube. This is the primary form of what will eventually be the spinal cord and brain, growing into the central nervous system and an incredibly important part of the human body.

Neural tube defects often develop in the first month of pregnancy, and often before you become aware that you’re pregnant. As a result, it is generally recommended that women of a child-bearing age should start supplementing with folic acid tablets or liquid. 

The birth defects linked to a lack of folic acid are generally in relation to the neural tube, some of which are discussed here.

Spina Bifida

There are several types of spina bifida, some mild which go unnoticed through life, but some can be very severe. 

Spina bifida occurs when a part of the neural tube, the part of the body which ultimately makes up the spinal cord and brain, does not form properly or does not develop its protective casing. 

Although surgeries can sometimes be performed to correct the underdeveloped neural tube, damage has usually already been done to the spinal cord, resulting in side effects such as weakness or paralysis in the legs, incontinence, and a loss of sensation in the skin. 

Babies with spina bifida often develop hydrocephalus, which is an excess of fluid on the brain. Although most people with spina bifida have normal cognitive abilities, some may have learning difficulties as well as the physical impairments.  

Importantly, sufficient supplementation of folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the chances of spina bifida by up to 70%. 

If you are planning to try for a baby, discuss your medical history with your partner and doctor as some circumstances can increase the risk of spina bifida and therefore require increased dosage of folic acid to effectively compensate for this. 

Anencephaly

Anencephaly is a tragically life-limiting condition. 

It occurs when part of the brain and spinal cord aren’t properly developed. If it is discovered in scans that a baby has anencephaly, then the parents will be referred to specialist departments to discuss the next stages. 

This disorder is not fully understood and there are varied causes. Although rare, due to its severity all possible steps should be taken to avoid the development of anencephaly, including folic acid supplementation. 

What Does Folic Acid Do For Men?

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Many will be wondering; can men take folic acid, and what is folic acid needed for in men?

The answer is pretty much the same as for women, with the exception of taking folic acid for pregnancy. All the symptoms, the deficiencies, the dosage, when, how, and why we need sources of folic acid is exactly the same.

Folic acid for hair loss is also an option: as we said earlier, the healthy cell turnover will affect hair follicles too, and could be beneficial for thinning hair.

There is one difference, and that is in the folic acid benefits for men: there are some scientific studies that propose that supplementing with this vitamin can actually increase sperm count and fertility in men. 

So, should men take folic acid? 

The answer to this relies on you as an individual. If you have a deficiency, or have been prescribed it by your doctor then yes. If you are also looking to improve your chances of conception, then folic acid for fertility could be an option.

Folic Acid Dosage

The folate you store in your body is mostly contained in the liver, with small amounts in the blood and body tissue, with total stores adding up to around 10-30mg.

Although deficiency is subjective and depends on circumstance, it's generally accepted that blood levels should not be below 3micrograms/L if you want to recieve the benefits of folic acid, and should be much higher in certain populations.

The Upper Tolerable Limit of folic acid is set at 1000micrograms per day. This is lower than the lowest observed adverse effect level, but just be aware that you do not exceed safe limits through dietary means and supplementation combined. 

Can You Overdose On Folic Acid?

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Another common question is; can you have too much folic acid?

Fortunately, it’s very difficult to induce a folic acid overdose. If you take too much you might experience some of the symptoms mentioned above, but otherwise folic acid is generally nontoxic.

As a water-soluble B vitamin, the body can easily remove excess folic acid through excretion.

How Long Does It Take Folic Acid To Build Up In Your System?

This usually depends on the reason why you’re taking this supplement, and is the same for folic acid in men and in women. 

If you’re taking folic acid before pregnancy then it can take around 3 to 4 months to build up sufficient levels for the health of your baby.

If you’re taking it for a deficiency then you should feel the effects of folic acid much quicker, sometimes within 24 hours of starting the treatment.

All of this information is important but relatively unknown, which is why a nutritionist’s job is so important. To find out more about this, read our nutritionist job description, or take a look at our level 4 advanced sports nutrition course to get you started!

When To Take Folic Acid

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If you take a folic acid daily dose and miss one then take one as soon as possible as a few hours won’t make much of a difference. If it gets close to the time for your next dose then skip the missed dose and continue as normal from your subsequent one. 

If you’re completely unsure about the best course of action then contact your doctor or a medical professional. 

If you’re scheduled to supplement folic acid once a week and miss your dose, take it as soon as you remember, unless you are prescribed other medication that day, such as methotrexate. 

If that is the case then take your methotrexate or other medication as scheduled and consume your folic acid liquid or tablet the following day, then try and fall back into your normal schedule the next week. 

Never take double doses of folic acid to make up for missed ones. Accidental double doses are unlikely to cause lasting or serious harm, however, if you are unsure then contact your doctor.

You might be wondering when to take folic acid tablets, morning or night, but really it doesn’t particularly matter as long as you take it roughly at the same time for each dose.

Supplementing vitamin B9 can mask deficiencies in vitamin B12 or other causes of apparent symptoms, as a result you should never begin a course of supplements without consulting a medical professional first. 

How To Take Folic Acid

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Taking folic acid is pretty much the same as most other vitamins or supplements. Always follow the directions on the packaging or from your doctor.

You can take your folic acid dose with or without food, although some brands may recommend taking it after food so check the instructions. It is usually recommended to take it with a glass of water. 

Most liquid folic acid supplements can be added to drinks, put under the tongue, or taken from a spoon.

Be sure to take the dose at the same time every day (or every week). 

Foods High in Folic Acid

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Knowing what foods contain folic acid will be beneficial for everyone: you’ll be able to incorporate these foods into your diet. 

Folic acid is manufactured specifically for supplements and fortified foodstuffs (such as bread and cereals) as it is more stable during storage and manufacturing than folate itself. 

Folate is present naturally in some foods, including:

  • Avocado
  • Spinach
  • Nuts
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons.
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Peas
  • Fortified cereals
  • Eggs
  • Beef liver

Other folic acid rich foods can be found in some animal products, although they are not essential to ensure you consume sufficient amounts, and some, like liver, should be avoided during pregnancy. 

By consuming a healthy, balanced diet, containing plenty of fruit and vegetables, you’ll more than likely get the right amount of folate for your body.

In normal circumstances, natural folic acid found in a healthy diet alone should be sufficient to support your folate needs. 

Most of these folic acid foods are healthy and will be suitable for athletes and gym goes. However, if you’re concerned about eating before workouts then invest in one of OriGym’s 17 best pre-workout supplements instead.

Folic Acid Supplements

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It is important to note that folic acid supplementation can interact with other medications and supplements. Before beginning a course of supplements, you should consult your doctor if you are on any other medications as they will be able to check for specific interaction risks and advise you on the best course of action for you as an individual.

It is also recommended not to take your folic acid supplements until a few hours before or after taking medication or remedies for indigestion as these can have a negative impact on the absorption of folic acid. 

Doses are specific to prescriptions from your doctor, or on the label of the specific supplement you have chosen.

There are a few options available to take, including liquid folic acid, tablets, capsules, and powder. Some folic acid tablets and capsules are combined with other vitamins or nutrients, such as folic acid and vitamin D, and vitamin B12 with folic acid. 

Try Holland & Barrett’s Folic Acid and Vitamin D tablets, or Pregnacare Liquid Folic Acid which contains additional iron, zinc, vitamin D, and more, and will provide a careful balance of the nutrients needed to support pregnancy.

Did you know that B vitamins are good for reducing fatigue and tiredness? Our health and purchase guide on vitamins for energy will give you some great advice if you need an energy boost!

Where To Buy Folic Acid

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Folic acid tablets and liquid are readily available to buy due to the high need for this essential nutrient. 

The majority of supermarkets sell various sources of folic acid, as well as their own brands, including folic acid 5mg tablets and others. Health and beauty stores such as Boots and Superdrug also sell this supplement, and of course the health specific Holland and Barrett. 

These stores will also sell these on their own websites, as well as other specific health brands such as MyProtein’s iron and folic acid tablets. If all else fails then Amazon UK will offer a huge variety of supplements, including those combined with other vitamins and minerals.

Conclusion

Folic acid, while not quite the same as folate, functions in much the same way and is an essential vitamin for the human body, and even more so for women trying to, or having, a baby.

Many people will ask “is folic acid good for you?” and the answer is yes! 

Fortunately, the majority of us will get sufficient amounts of this B vitamin through our diets and gain all the benefits of folic acid, as there are plenty of foods that contain it as well as folate. Plus, those that find they need to up their intake can easily find various supplements.

Check out OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course if you enjoyed reading our article about nutrition and health. For more information download our free course prospectus, you can find out all about our other courses and diplomas.

Sources:

  1. Bahmani, F., Karamali, M., Shakeri, H. and Asemi, Z. (2014). The Effects of Folate Supplementation on Inflammatory Factors and Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Clinical Trial. Clinical Endocrinology, [online] 81(4), pp.582–587.
  2. Brown, H.E. and Roffman, J.L. (2014). Vitamin Supplementation in the Treatment of Schizophrenia. CNS Drugs, [online] 28(7), pp.611–622. 
  3. Jones, P., Lucock, M., Scarlett, C.J., Veysey, M. and Beckett, E.L. (2019). Folate and Inflammation – Links between Folate and Features of Inflammatory Conditions. Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism, 18, p.100104.
  4. Li, Y., Huang, T., Zheng, Y., Muka, T., Troup, J. and Hu, F.B. (2016). Folic Acid Supplementation and the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: A Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association, 5(8).
  5. Ma, F., Wu, T., Zhao, J., Song, A., Liu, H., Xu, W. and Huang, G. (2016). Folic Acid Supplementation Improves Cognitive Function by Reducing the Levels of Peripheral Inflammatory Cytokines in Elderly Chinese Subjects with MCI. Scientific Reports, 6(1).
  6. McNulty, H., Rollins, M., Cassidy, T., Caffrey, A., Marshall, B., Dornan, J., McLaughlin, M., McNulty, B.A., Ward, M., Strain, J.J., Molloy, A.M., Lees-Murdock, D.J., Walsh, C.P. and Pentieva, K. (2019). Effect of Continued Folic Acid Supplementation beyond the First Trimester of Pregnancy on Cognitive Performance in the child: a follow-up Study from a Randomized Controlled Trial (FASSTT Offspring Trial). BMC Medicine, 17(1).
  7. National Institute of Health (2017). Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/.
  8. Reynolds, E.H. (2002). Folic acid, ageing, depression, and Dementia. BMJ, 324(7352), pp.1512–1515.
  9. Saedisomeolia, A., Djalali, M., Malekshahi Moghadam, A., Ramezankhani, O. and Najmia, L. (2011). Folate and Vitamin B12 Status in Schizophrenic Patients. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 16(Suppl1), pp.S437–S441.
  10. Samblas, M., Martínez, J.A. and Milagro, F. (2018). Folic Acid Improves the Inflammatory Response in LPS-Activated THP-1 Macrophages. Mediators of Inflammation, 2018, pp.1–8.
  11. Valdés-Ramos, R., Ana Laura, G.-L., Beatriz Elina, M.-C. and Alejandra Donají, B.-A. (2015). Vitamins and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets, 15(1), pp.54–63.
  12. Wong, W.Y., Merkus, H.M.W.M., Thomas, C.M.G., Menkveld, R., Zielhuis, G.A. and Steegers-Theunissen, R.P.M. (2002). Effects of Folic Acid and Zinc Sulfate on Male Factor subfertility: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled Trial. Fertility and Sterility, 77(3), pp.491–498.

Written by Dee Hammond-Blackburn

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Dee on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Dee holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature, and is currently finishing her MA in Marketing Communications and Branding from Edge Hill University. Her passion for fitness and content writing brought her to OriGym, and she has since become a qualified Personal Trainer and a Sports Nutrition Specialist. Combining her skills in fitness and writing, Dee has a professional interest in fitness blogging, content creation, and social media. Outside of her writing role Dee enjoys reading, healthy cooking, and playing football with her dalmation.

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