Folate (also known as vitamin B-9 or folic acid—a synthetic form of folate available in supplements) is an essential vitamin offering up a wealth of health benefits. But for as much as 60 percent of the population, a genetic predisposition makes it difficult for people to convert folic acid to its active form. For this reason, getting enough folate from your diet (or supplementing with folic acid) is important.
The good news? Folate is found in plenty of delicious foods, including dark greens, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, beans, lentils, avocados, beets, carrots, squash, and more.
So what types of benefits does getting more folate in your life come with? To start with, when used in combination with B-6 and B-12, folate can help lower homocysteine (an amino acid that, at high levels, may increase risk for stroke) in the blood, according to a study by The Lancet. And, if you are pregnant or have a condition like Celiac’s Disease that makes it difficult for you to absorb nutrients, you may experience megaloblastic anemia, or a lack of folic acid in the blood. Increasing your folate intake or adding a folate supplement may prevent an iron deficiency.
And so much more:
Promotes Hair, Skin, and Nail Health
The health of your hair, skin, and nails can be influenced by how much folate is in your diet, according to Dr. Sonam Yadav, Cosmetic Dermatologist and Medical Director at Juverne.
“Folate helps cell regeneration, thus improving hair and skin health, and helps slow down the appearance of skin aging,” shared Yadav, who says a folate deficiency may not only cause appearance issues (like hair loss and skin dryness), but put you at a higher risk for developing skin cancer.
Prevention of Birth Defects
If you’re a woman of childbearing age you should definitely consider taking a daily folate supplement, according to Diana K. Rice, a registered dietitian—and that’s because folate plays a role in preventing birth defects.
“The main issues are possible neural tube defects, which is when the baby’s spine doesn’t fully close in the mother’s womb—as well as possible congenital heart defects for the baby,” Rice says.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women and teen girls should be getting 400 mcg of folic acid daily from supplements, fortified foods, or folate-rich foods. That number increases to 500-600 mcg for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Folate also influences absorption of neurotransmitters (which are chemicals that send messages from one brain cell to another). According to the journal Integrative Psychiatry, Folate helps transform amino acids from your diet into key neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. Because of this, folate may offer mood support to expectant mothers, according to research by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
But don’t write off folate if you aren’t a soon-to-be mom. If you have a mood disorder, folate deficiency could be a potential culprit. According to Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, folate deficiency may contribute to a depressed mood since it is associated with low levels of serotonin.