Folic Acid Awareness

By: Jamie Vallone, RD, CDN

The second week of January is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Many people have heard of the importance of folic acid for women of childbearing age, as adequate amounts have been shown to reduce the risk of the development of birth defects in early pregnancy. But folic acid is important for both women and men throughout their life, and there is emerging research about how this nutrient may benefit the senior population specifically.

What are folic acid and folate?
Folic acid or folate is the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin while folate is the naturally occurring form found in food.

What are sources of folic acid and folate?
Folate is found naturally in foods such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, and beans. Folic acid is found in dietary supplements and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, pasta and other grain products. The synthetic form is more easily utilized by the body than the naturally occurring form of this vitamin.

What are some of the health benefits of folic acid and folate?
As mentioned, folic acid has a role in reducing the risk of birth defects. It is also important for cell production and the prevention of folic acid deficiency which can cause anemia. In addition, low blood levels of folate have a connection to increased amounts of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

How much folic acid is recommended daily?
The amount of folic acid and folate recommended to be consumed in a day varies by life stage. For general recommendations, please visit the link below or speak with your doctor.

How can seniors benefit from folic acid?
Some studies have indicated a potential link between folic acid in combination with other B vitamins in decreasing the risk of stroke. There is also research that suggests folic acid may help lower the risk of developing several forms of cancer. In addition, some studies indicate a connection between folic acid and reducing the risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and depression. However, it is important to note that these findings are not conclusive and more research needs to be done.

Folate is an essential vitamin for everyone for red blood cell production and making genetic material such as DNA, but it is important to always talk to your doctor before beginning a dietary supplement. Folic acid supplements can mask a deficiency of Vitamin B12 and may interact with several medications.

For more information, talk to your doctor or visit: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/