What are the health benefits of folic acid?

The benefits of optimal folate/folic acid status include reduced neural tube defects, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (by decreasing levels of homocysteine), decreased risk of cancer (by improved DNA/RNA repair and gene expression), decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive decline, and decreased risk of osteoporosis.
Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine
Folic acid and folate are forms of the water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods and dietary supplements. All women should make sure they get the recommended amount of folate, as it clearly influences many body functions, including the production and maintenance of new cells.

There are some new findings that a deficiency in folate can lead to compromised bone as high levels of homocysteine is thought to play a role in osteoporosis. Folate helps regulate homocysteine because it is critical for the conversion of the amino acid methionine to cysteine. A clinical study among post-menopausal women suggests that folic acid supplementation reduced homocysteine levels, even though none of the women appeared to be deficient in folic acid. There research indicating that folic acid may help to counteract drug-related liver damage in those with rheumatoid arthritis. In a study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, researchers confirmed that taking folic acid or folate supplements along with methotrexate, a commonly prescribed medication for rheumatoid arthritis, can help to decrease drug-related liver damage. This allows patients to stay on the medication longer and see greater relief of pain and inflammation. Dietary folate may give the same benefit.

Another reason to get ample folate, through food or supplementation, is to improve your mood. Research shows there is a high incidence of folate deficiency in depression, and clinical studies indicate that some depressed patients who are folate deficient respond to folate administration. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 400 micrograms (mcg). If you need to supplement, the risk of toxicity is low. The best food sources are fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, spinach, orange, broccoli, asparagus, beets, spinach, turnip greens, cabbage, egg yolks, turkey, cowpeas, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and soybeans.
Dr. Rovenia Brock, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Also known as vitamin B9, folic acid is needed for DNA synthesis, the formation of red blood cells and for the metabolism of amino acids. Folic acid is most commonly known for it role in fetal health and development. It is critical for the formation of a baby’s spinal cord and nervous system. This important developmental process occurs during the initial weeks of pregnancy, and so adequate folic acid intake is especially important for all women of child-bearing age.
The health benefits of folic acid include:
  • Reducing risk of birth defects in babies born to women who take folic acid supplements during pregnancy
  • Possibly reducing risk of some types of cancer, though more research is needed
  • Reducing side effects from certain treatments for chronic diseases, including psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis
Study is ongoing to explore and confirm the health benefits of folic acid. Talk to your doctor for more information about folic acid and your own needs for this nutrient.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.