Folic acid, also called vitamin B9, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for boosting cell division and the synthesis of genetic material (DNA and RNA). It contributes to the production and multiplication of red and white blood cells and contains substances that stimulate the renewal of skin cells and intestinal cells.
Folic acid is also involved in the manufacture of chemical compounds that regulate the activities of the brain.
An essential element to maintain all stages of pregnancy, it is also involved in the formation of the nervous system of the embryo. Its consumption is essential for a pregnant woman since it ensures the development of the baby.
The human body cannot synthesize folic acid on its own. Thus, you must usually obtain it from the foods you eat. It is mainly contained in green leafy vegetables, hence its folic name, originating from “folate” or “folium” which means “leaf”.
Let’s take a look together at the importance of folic acid for the organism.
How much folic acid do you need?
Our folic acid (Vitamin B9) needs change throughout life, and double during pregnancy. It is essential to cover your daily needs. Here are the recommended nutritional intakes:
|Age groups||Recommended nutritional intake in micrograms (µg)|
|Infants 0-6 months||65 (sufficient intake)|
|Babies from 7 to 12 months||80 (sufficient intake)|
|Young children from 1 to 3 years old||150|
|Children from 4 to 8 years old||200|
|Children from 9 to 13 years old||300|
|Adolescents aged 14 to 18||400|
|Adults from 18 years old||400|
Health Benefits of Folic Acid
Promotes the metabolism of amino acids
Folacin is involved in the metabolism of protein constituents, which are none other than amino acids. It also participates in the production of genetic material: DNA and. It plays a particularly important role in the production of rapidly renewing cells: white and red blood cells, skin cells, intestinal cells, which are all involved in the immune system.
Reduces the level of homocysteine in the blood
When vitamin B9 is combined with vitamin B12, it helps reduce the level of homocysteine in the blood. This compound promotes cardiovascular disease and kidney disease when it is present in excess in the body.
The functioning of the nervous system
Vitamin B9 is involved in the central nervous system and participates in its proper functioning. It participates in particular in the production of neurotransmitters, which ensure the essential functions of the brain and nervous system. Folic acid is necessary for normal psychological functioning, but also for reducing the state of fatigue.
Essential during pregnancy
Vitamin B9 is necessary and helpful for the formation of maternal tissues during pregnancy, such as the uterus, placenta, blood, etc. It is also essential for the formation of blood cells, among other components. It is involved in the immune system and in the production of genetic material in the body: it is necessary to ensure sufficient intake throughout pregnancy, and not just at the beginning.
Folic acid plays a crucial role in the control of emotions and influences our reaction to stress, anxiety and depression. Researchers are interested in the possible effectiveness of adjuvant treatment with folic acid in the prevention and treatment of depression.
In all likelihood, antidepressants are less effective when the blood level of folate is low. The risk of relapse is also higher if folic acid is not sufficient. Taking vitamin B9 in food supplements can therefore improve the effects of antidepressants.
Reduces high blood pressure
Appropriate folic acid supplementation helps lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. This effect is linked to the properties of the vitamin on reducing the blood level of homocysteine in the body.
On the same level, reducing high homocysteine levels helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with severe kidney disease. Cardiovascular risks are then considerably reduced by appropriate supplementation.
Prevents age-related macular degeneration
Taking folic acid and a few other vitamins (among which are vitamins B12 and B6) helps reduce the risk of suffering from age-related macular degeneration (a common eye disease) by almost 35%, especially in women.
Reduces the side effects of certain drugs
Vitamin B6 acts on certain drugs, and more particularly on their undesirable effects. This is the case with methotrexate, used in the context of leukemia and certain other cancers. Supplementation with folic acid can reduce the side effects of this medication, such as nausea and vomiting, by more than 35%.
Prevents colon cancer
Some studies with folic acid show that long-term supplementation reduces the risk of colon cancer, especially in women. The protective effect is slight but confirmed. In other types of cancer, consuming vitamins B6, B9 and B12 appears to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
High intakes of folic acid would offer protective effects against breast cancer in women consuming alcohol.
Finally, high dietary intakes of folate induce a reduced risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Foods rich in folic acid
Folic acid is found in many foods of animal origin, especially organ meats. If they do not all have the same folic acid content, they are all avenues to explore to best supplement and diversify your diet.
Calf’s or lamb’s liver
Animal offal is the best source of folic acid. Calf’s or lamb’s liver is proof of this. It is estimated that the liver of calves and lambs contains between 330 to 400 µg of folic acid per 100 grams. A lot of people do not like organ meats, but some interesting recipes cleverly integrate them to allow you to consume them easily.
Pork liver is less concentrated in folic acid, but it is still a very good source of the vitamin. It has between 160 and 260 µg of B9 per 100 grams. However, like Calf’s or lamb’s liver, it doesn’t appeal to all palates: you will certainly have to find a way to prepare it that suits your taste. But if you really don’t like organ meats, or if you refuse to consume them for ethical reasons, rest assured! There are many other sources of folic acid.
Poultry offal is a very important source of folic acid. Admittedly, they don’t appeal to everyone and that’s what makes them so unique. However, they are very nutritious and there are many ways to prepare them. You will certainly be able to find a recipe that you like. Poultry offal has between 345-770 µg of folic acid per 100 grams.
Hard-boiled eggs are a popular source of folic acid. It is estimated that 100 grams of cooked eggs contain 106 µg of folic acid. You can therefore easily increase your vitamin B9 intake by regularly consuming eggs, without overdoing it. Eggs also contain other nutrients like proteins, minerals, and fats.
Dairy products, and more particularly certain cheeses, contain interesting concentrations of vitamin B9. This is the case with Saint Marcellin cheese (133 µg / 100 grams) or goat cheese (80 to 108 µg / 100 grams), for example. It is the same for the Camembert. Of course, cheeses are still foods that should be consumed sparingly. So, don’t overdo it!
There are excellent plant sources of vitamin B9 that we can prioritize in our daily diet, and even more so during pregnancy. These are also foods that should be favored if you are not consuming animal sources of folic acid.
Cooked legumes are the best plant sources of folic acid. They contain between 230 to 370 µg of B9 per 100 grams. So, indulge yourself! Beans, lentils, peas, and other legumes will allow you on the one hand to increase your vitamin intake, and on the other hand to replace meat in delicious vegetarian or vegan recipes. If you don’t consume animal products, consider offering legumes a prominent place in your diet.
In addition, you can also turn to soybeans or edamame. Edamame are small beans that are generally used to garnish dishes. They count 80 to 105 µg of folic acid per 150 ml, which is considerable!
Brewer’s yeast and wheat germ
Brewer’s yeast is a natural source of vitamin B9, and we can even go so far as to say that it is exceptional. This product contains up to 2500 µg of folic acid per 100 grams! Of course, you never consume so much brewer’s yeast at once. But integrating it into your diet could be beneficial to you in this context.
Wheat germ can also be mentioned among the sources of folic acid. It contains 350 µg per 100 grams, which is quite an honorable amount. These two foods will help you consume more B9 on a daily basis, especially since brewer’s yeast is also available in pills.
Green leafy vegetables
Some green vegetables are great sources of folic acid. This is the case with spinach (140 µg / 125 ml) and asparagus (130 µg / 125 ml).
Spinach is an accessible, easy-to-cook vegetable that incorporates thousands of tasty recipes. Asparagus is low in calories and a great source of iron!
If they are of particular interest to us here, it is because of their ability to cover a quarter of our daily needs in B9. In this category, we can also add broccoli (90 µg / 125 ml), Brussels sprouts, or kale.
Sunflower and flax seeds
Sunflower seeds, whether roasted (80 µg / 60 ml) or reduced to vegetable butter (77 µg / 30 ml) remain excellent natural sources of B9. The same is true for flax seeds, which have 110 µg / 60 ml. Moreover, the latter contains very interesting nutrients, including the famous omega 3 fatty acids! The seeds are easily integrated into our diet, especially to enhance dishes.
Nuts are great for your health and packed with essential nutrients. From mineral salts and trace elements to vitamins, including fatty acids: they lack nothing. And this time again, they are on our list of the foods richest in vitamin B9! On average, oilseeds count 39 µg per 60 ml of dried fruit.
Some fruits are very rich in vitamins. And they also contain folic acid! These include citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruit, orange, etc.), melon, kiwi, dates, figs, bananas, and red fruits. It’s preferable to consume these fruits fresh: folic acid is very fragile and can be degraded in contact with heat and air.
Other sources of folic acid in our diet
Many commercial breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B9. In some countries, pasta is also fortified. In general, try to keep a varied and balanced diet to ensure full nutritional intake. In particular, if you are planning to start a pregnancy, talk to your doctor who will prescribe appropriate supplementation!
Self-medication is never recommended, especially when a child’s health is at stake.
Folic acid deficiency
A deficiency in folic acid can have serious consequences, leading, for example, to damage in the development of cells or DNA. Folic acid is also essential for the formation of red and white blood cells. A deficiency in folic acid is usually expressed by the following symptoms:
- Pale skin
- Fatigue and reduced performance
- Headache, dizziness
- Chapped corners of the lips, burning sensation on the tongue
- Hair loss
- Vulnerability to infections
- Breathing difficulties
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
Excess of folic acid
Deficiency and excess are equally problematic. In high doses, folic acid can cause neurological damage. For this reason, the safe limit dose has been set at 1 gram per day (1000 mg). Only medical advice can authorize taking a higher dose of folic acid.
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is essential from the earliest stages of life. It participates in the proper formation of our neural tube, which gives it a very important role. But it remains involved and active at all stages of life in many areas. Making sure you get enough daily intake is a good way to support your immune system and stay healthy in general. However, in some cases like pregnancy, supplementation may be necessary. Before any supplementation, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.