Folate: Health Benefits and Risks

Folate, also called vitamin B9 or folic acid, is an essential nutrient for your body. Multiple foods naturally contain folate, like vegetables, beans, whole grains, and eggs. Food manufacturers also add folic acid to foods to fortify them with this important vitamin.

Health Benefits of Folate
Folate is essential for basic cell function in your body as it helps form DNA and RNA that tell your cells what to do. Beyond this, it can provide health benefits, which include:

Decreased Risk of Certain Cancers
Getting sufficient folate in your diet may reduce the risk of certain cancers. For instance, one study revealed that folate supplementation resulted in a 50% reduction in the risk of getting squamous cell carcinoma.

Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
High levels of the protein homocysteine in the blood can increase the possibility of cardiovascular disease, resulting in stroke and heart attack. A folate deficiency can cause elevated homocysteine levels. By supplementing your diet with folate, you can break down excess homocysteine in your blood, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Health Risks of Folate
Consuming folate can also be bad for your health in the following ways:

Prostrate Cancer
While folate supplementation can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, it can also increase the risk of prostate cancer. Additionally, folic acid supplements may cause already existing cancers to develop faster. However, more studies are required to determine the exact relationship between folate and cancer.

Drug Interactions
Folic acid is generally deemed safe. That said, taking folic acid supplements while on the following medications may result in them being less effective:

  • Barbiturates: Anesthesia and other drugs that operate as nervous system depressants.
  • Pyrimethamine (Daraprim): To treat parasite infection
  • Methotrexate (Trexall): a treatment for psoriasis

If you are on any of these medications, consult your physician before taking a folic acid supplement.

Side Effects
Folic acid could result in mild to moderate side effects, including:

  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Nausea/ loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances

Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to folic acid supplements. Symptoms of this could include:

  • Rash
  • Itchiness and redness
  • Breathing problems

If you suffer any of these symptoms, consult a doctor before taking the supplement again.

Folate offers many health benefits but can also make things worse if not consumed properly. Before taking this vitamin, consult your doctor to understand how it can affect any existing conditions or medications you currently use.