The Scoop on Vitamins: B9 – Folic Acid

This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance during pregnancy for healthy fetal development, particularly during the first trimester. While the connection isn’t completely understood, the demand for folate most likely increases because of unique hormonal changes. It’s important to note that women who are on the birth control pill but are not pregnant also have an increased need for folate and other B vitamins because the pill creates hormone demands that mimic pregnancy.

Folate (also called folacin) deficiencies are observed in the depressed and the mentally ill, as well as the elderly. Smoking, alcohol and stress also readily deplete folate. Folacin deficiency is one of the most prevalent deficiencies, though it is difficult to identify because its symptoms can mimic those of a B12 deficiency—folate is dependent on B12 for proper utilization, and without it is useless in the body. Symptoms of deficiency include irritability, weakness, apathy, forgetfulness, hostility, paranoid behavior, headache, gastrointestinal disturbance and heart palpitations.

Proper folate levels are critical for a healthy system. This powerful nutrient is used to nourish and repair tissues, and plays a key role in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep, pain and mood. Aim for at least 400 mcg of folate daily to maintain tissue stores and give your body the building blocks it needs.

Supplementation of folate is an easy and affordable way to support energy, mental health and the demands of growth and aging. Studies have shown that the body responds quickly to supplementation therapy. I always recommend B vitamins taken together in the form of a B-complex supplement.

My top recommendations:

Basic B-Complex by Thorne Research, which offers 400 mcg of folate per serving. Thorne is a medical-grade company and I often recommend it for its potency, quality and avoidance of allergens, fillers and preservatives.

I also recommend food-based supplements like MegaFood’s Balanced B Complex because they offer pure, bioavailable formulations.

Studies have also shown that good folate levels can be maintained with the ingestion of two portions of leafy green vegetables each day (folate and folacin derive their names from “foliage”). That includes nutritionally rich and health-boosting greens such as spinach, kale and collards, along with other nourishing vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green peas, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. But like the other B vitamins, folate is sensitive to high-heat cooking methods like boiling and microwaving that can deplete the nutrients, so it is vital to eat both fresh, raw produce as well as cooked.

Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

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