Although the upper safe dose for folic acid is 1,000 mcg a day, it’s highly recommended getting up to 400 mcg from dietary supplements, or fortified foods. Following a diet with many foods high in folate is better for your health.
Is folate, folic acid & vitamin B9 the same?
Vitamin B9 is also known as folate or folic acid. These are different forms of the same vitamin.
Vitamin B9 is naturally present as folate in foods.
On the other hand, dietary supplements and fortified foods contain folic acid. This is the synthetic form of folate. It doesn’t generally occur naturally.
Dietary supplements and fortified foods contain folic acid, as it’s very stable. Folic acid withstands higher levels of heat and light. So, when we boil fortified pasta, folic acid isn’t destroyed.
Moreover, folic acid is better absorbed, as compared to folate, which is the form naturally present in food sources. We absorb about 85% of vitamin B9 from supplements. On the contrary, our bodies absorb only 50% of the natural form, found in foods.
Health benefits of folic acid (or folate or vitamin B9)
Folic acid or folate or vitamin B9 is a water-soluble B vitamin. It has many health benefits for the human body.
First, it’s necessary for the synthesis of new cells, helps form DNA and RNA, and it’s involved in protein metabolism. Thus, folate is vital during periods of rapid growth, such as during pregnancy.
Additionally, folate may decrease the risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as colorectal, lung, pancreatic, esophageal, stomach, cervical, ovarian, breast, and bladder cancer. Folate may protect us from certain types of cancer, due to its effect on DNA replication and cell division.
But, folate seems to be beneficial only during the early stages of cancer development. Therefore, eating lots of foods rich in folate every day is a great way to lower the risk of certain cancers!
Furthermore, folate plays a key role in the metabolism of homocysteine. Actually, folate and vitamin B12 can lower homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid which is dangerous for our health in high amounts. Above all, high levels of homocysteine may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
For instance, according to studies, taking supplements with folic acid can reduce the risk of stroke up to 25%.
Hence, consuming foods high in folate may be beneficial for protecting your heart and reducing the risk of stroke! On the contrary, fast food can significantly increase homocysteine levels. Processed meat, fried foods, sugar, salt and fat are linked to increased levels of homocysteine.
Moreover, low levels of folate have been linked to poor memory, poor cognitive function, increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression.
Additionally, folic acid is good for weight loss.
Last, but not least, folic acid is vital for the synthesis of serotonin which regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and sex drive.
What’s the recommended daily dose for folate?
The recommended daily dose for folate is 400 mcg for adults. Kids need lower dosages. Only pregnant and lactating women need higher doses of 600 mcg a day.
These recommended daily doses stand for folate, which is naturally present in food sources. On the contrary, as folic acid is about 2 times more bioavailable than folate, we need only 240 mcg of folic acid from supplements a day.
Women may need higher doses of folic acid a day
Actually, many people may have higher daily needs for folic acid.
For instance, women who try to get pregnant may benefit from higher doses of vitamin B9. It’s highly recommended getting 400 mcg of folic acid a day from supplements or fortified foods.
This extra dose can help prevent some birth defects. In fact, birth defects of the baby’s brain or spine occur very early in pregnancy. About 3-4 weeks after conception. Before most women even know they are pregnant. After all, about half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned.
Certainly, following a well-balanced diet rich in foods with folate is the best way to boost your daily folate intake!
Also, people who regularly drink alcohol should get higher folate dosages of 600 mcg a day.
What’s the upper safe dosage for folic acid?
The upper safe dosage for folic acid from dietary supplements or fortified foods is 1,000 mcg a day. This daily dose is unlikely to cause any side effects in most people. In any case, only people under medical supervision should exceed this upper safe dose.
First, high intakes of folic acid may mask vitamin B12 deficiency. Thus, many dietary supplements with folic acid contain vitamin B12 as well.
Moreover, our bodies can’t metabolize high daily doses of folic acid. Unmetabolized folic acid in the body could negatively affect the immune system and might be related to cognitive impairment among older adults.
According to studies, daily doses of folic acid of 300-400 mcg can lead to unmetabolized folic acid. We easily get these doses from supplements or fortified foods, such as fortified cereals. On the contrary, researchers couldn’t detect any unmetabolized folic acid when people consumed only 200 mcg of folic acid from supplements.
Additionally, if you take folic acid supplementation, you better consume it once a day. The same dose divided into smaller doses in a day causes even higher unmetabolized folic acid concentrations!
Also, timing of supplementation plays a key role in cancer prevention. According to many clinical trials, high doses of folic acid may promote cancer progression. But, taking moderate amounts of folic acid from supplements might suppress cancer development in healthy tissues at the early stages of cancer!
Practically, eating foods high in folate every day is beneficial for preventing certain types of cancer.
So, if you want to boost your daily intake of folic acid, you should take up to 400 mcg from supplements, or less! Especially, if you eat fortified foods or follow a diet high in folate.
Certainly, you should consult your health care provider before taking any supplement or drastically changing your diet.
Keep in mind that folic acid supplements can interact with certain medications.
Side effects of high dosages of folic acid
Adverse side effects of high dosages of folic acid are rather uncommon. But, folic acid supplements can cause side effects in some people. The most common side effects are nausea, or morning sickness for pregnant women, loss of appetite, and bloating.
Can I get too much folate from food?
Actually, there isn’t an upper safe limit for folate from foods. We can eat as many foods with folate, as we want a day. High intakes of folate from food have not been reported to cause any adverse effects.
Do I need supplements with folic acid?
In fact, most people who follow a well-balanced diet consume adequate amounts of folate. It’s estimated that men get about 600 mcg and women 450 mcg of folate from food, respectively.
Only people who follow a poor diet may be deficient in folate. Thus, eating healthier is by far more important than taking folic acid supplements.
Common foods rich in folate
Folate is naturally present in so many foods. Dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, seeds, nuts, beans, eggs, dairy, and poultry are all rich in folate.
As plants are excellent dietary sources of folate, people who follow a whole food plant-based diet tend to have higher blood folate levels.
See the whole list of common foods rich in folate here.