While it’s renowned primarily for supporting healthy foetus development and helping to manage anaemia, it turns out that taking folate—and it’s synthetic counterpart—folic acid, can reap you serious benefits in the wellness department.
Folate is essentially a B vitamin. It’s called folate when it occurs naturally in food and is referred to as folic acid when it comes in the form of a food additive or supplement. It is also sometimes called vitamin B9 and is vital for healthy growth and development. The body uses folate to form red blood cells, make DNA and grow and repair cells and tissues, which is why it’s so important—both in pregnant women and non-pregnant women.
Here’s why and how you should be cramming plenty of folate into your diet, whether you’re preggas or just up for some extra health perks.
How to know if you’re deficient in folate
Unless you’re pregnant or have been diagnosed with deficiency, folate probably isn’t even on your radar. A deficiency of this vitamin, however, can cause symptoms like decreased appetite, excessively pale skin, a total lack of energy, weakness and shortness of breath; which can often look like other health problems.
Blood work will be able to diagnose whether or not folate deficiency is the root cause of your anaemia, and folic acid will likely be prescribed as the first port of call for treatment.
Because folate is a water-soluble vitamin, your body can’t store excess to use as reserves for if your levels get too low. This means that you have to replenish your system on the reg—and one of the easiest ways to do that is through diet. Unsurprisingly, folate isn’t found in refined, processed foods but in a diet that is abundant in wholefoods, fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens, peas, asparagus, broccoli and brussel sprouts should all feature heavily in your diet for your folate fix, as well as citrus fruits, eggs, legumes and fortified grains.
Nutritionists recommend sourcing folate from your food as much as possible because it converts to vitamin B9 much faster than a supplement does.
Unexpected health benefits of folate
Alongside increasing your red blood cell count and assisting in healthy foetal development, folate packs a decent punch in other areas of health, too. A 2016 study found that supplementation with folic acid could be attributed to a 10% decrease in strokes and a 4% decrease in cardiovascular disease, while multiple studies from as early as the 1930s have been able to draw a link between taking folic acid orally and reduced levels of gingivitis.
If you’re looking to grow long and luscious locks, you might want to include folate or folic acid as part of your supplement regimen (alongside collagen, of course). Because it helps your body to build cells and tissue, this underrated B-vitamin could be the answer to thin, lacklustre hair.