Showing posts with label folic acid risks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label folic acid risks. Show all posts

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What You Should Know about Folate and Folic Acid

Should you supplement with B-12 (folate)? What are the risks?

It has many names – folate, folic acid, vitamin B-9 and vitamin B-12. No matter what you call it, it adds up to one thing: Folate is a holistic benefactor of bodily health function. But is it safe to boost your B12/folate intake with supplements? Are there dietary ways to boost folate naturally? Let's investigate.

Folate/B-12 health benefits

The health benefits of folate are many, including fighting obesity, treating depression, improving brain function, preventing colon cancer and other forms of cancer, fighting heart disease and strokes, warding off dementia, processing amino acids, and repairing and maintaining cells, including red blood cells.

Folate is also important in fetal development, with some research showing that inadequate B-12/folate can hamper proper spinal cord development, resulting in brain damage or paralysis.
And though not all the research agrees, many people swear by folate/B-12 as a hangover cure.

How much B-12/folate do I need to take?

The amount of folate you need varies, depending on your age, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their guidelines:
  • Birth to 6 months: 65 mcg
  • Infants 7–12 months: 80 mcg
  • Children 1–3 years: 150 mcg
  • Children 4–8 years: 200 mcg
  • Children 9–13 years: 300 mcg
  • Teens and adults: 400 mcg
As well, pregnant teens and women should consider 600 mcg daily, and breast-feeding teens and women should consume 500 mcg daily.

B-12 studies: folate research

With so many claims of folate health benefits, you may be asking, "says who?" Fortunately, folate and folic acid (the most common folate supplementation form) have been studied rigorously, offering insight into these claims.
While most research related to natural forms of folate (see the list below) confirm the health benefits, the results are not all positive for folic acid.
On the thumbs-up side:
  • A 2006 study found that the rate of stroke deaths fell dramatically during the first four years of cereal/grain fortification.
  • Several studies have shown that folate slows brain aging.
  • A 20-year US/China collaborative folic acid study determined that the newborns of women who took the daily recommended amount of folic acid during pregnancy experienced an 85% drop in the risk of neural tube defects while not increasing the risk of miscarriage or multiple births.
  • This study concluded that folic acid fortification in food products can significantly decrease the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • This 2013 study showed that folic acid given to mother rats protected their offspring from Colon cancer.
  • A CDC study concluded that mothers with preexisting diabetes who did not supplement with folic acid had an increased risk for birth defects.
On the thumbs-down side:
  • This study showed that, in abnormally high doses, folic acid supplements promoted the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats.
  • A randomized control trial conclude that that daily supplementation with 1 mg of folic acid can increase prostate cancer risk.
  • Another study showed that older adults who consume more than 400 micrograms of folic acid per day accelerate the rate of cognitive decline.
  • This 2013 research showed that folic acid deficiency can be detrimental to the health of  your great-great-grandchildren.

B-12, folic acid risks

At least in its natural form, there are very few side effects or risks associated with folate, even in high dosage. That said, extremely high doses (more than 15,000 mcg) can negatively affect your sleep, cause stomach troubles, skin reactions, and possibly seizures.
However, there are a few risks associated with too much folic acid – the supplemental form of folate:
  • High doses of folic acid can mask the symptoms of anemia – a serious B-12 deficiency.
  • Some research suggests that high doses of folic acid can increase colorectal cancer risks.
  • Drug interaction risks with folic acid include methotrexate (when taken to treat cancer) and certain anti-epileptic medications. As well,  taking sulfasalazine (used for ulcerative colitis) can dampen the body's ability to absorb folate, thereby depleting your folate levels.

how to get B-12 folate into your diet

Generally, natural sources of vitamins are more bio-available (usable in your body) than synthetic sources. And fortunately, there are many natural ways to increase the amount of folate in your diet.
Folate is a word that comes from the same root as foliage – no accident there, as many greens are excellent sources of folate. But there are several more.
According to the USDA, you can get 100 micrograms of naturally occurring folate by consuming any of the following foods:
  • A cup of cooked Brussels sprouts
  • One cup of cooked collard greens or mustard greens
  • A cup of cooked broccoli
  • Five spears of asparagus
  • A half cup of cooked spinach
  • A full cup of cooked artichokes
  • A 1 cup can of sweet corn
  • Eight ounces of orange juice
  • A half cup of dry roasted peanuts
  • A half cup of cooked dried beans
  • A mere quarter cup of lentils
  • A half cup of sunflower seeds.

Though not as abundantly, you can also increase your folate intake by consuming yeast, cereals, mushrooms, eggs, poultry, liver, dairy products, and from some fruits such as bananas, strawberries, and oranges.
To boost your folate intake more, consider minimal or unprocessed consumption of the fruits and vegetables noted above. For example:
  • One cup of cooked garbanzo beans provides over 275 micrograms of folate, while canned garbanzo beans provide just 75 micrograms.
  • A cup of freshly cooked asparagus has more than 265 micrograms of folate, but a cup of canned asparagus only has about 170 micrograms.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer