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Folate (B9)

What is vitamin B9?

Vitamin B9, also known as folate, is an essential nutrient that helps our cells develop and function properly. It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it is not stored in the body in large amounts. While the term folate is often used interchangeably with folic acid, these are technically not the same. They are both forms of the same vitamin (vitamin B9), but folate is the form naturally found in food, and folic acid is the form found in supplements.1 Folic acid is more easily absorbed in the body, but either form can be used to meet our vitamin B9 needs.2

Why we need it

Folate helps our bodies synthesize DNA, a molecule that carries our genetic information. For instance, enzymes that produce purine and pyrimidine (compounds that make up DNA) require folate to function.2 Similarly, folate is involved in methylating DNA (a process in which methyl groups are transferred to DNA molecules), thereby helping to regulate gene expression.2 Folate is also involved in repairing damaged DNA, which may help protect against cancer and other diseases associated with DNA damage.3

Additionally, folate plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). For instance, folate is essential for converting the homocysteine to methionine,2 which is important for various reasons. First off, the amino acid homocysteine is linked to various negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases.4 Further, the amino acid methionine is needed to produce S-adenosyl methionine (SAM), which is a compound that regulates gene expression and hormone production, and helps us clear out harmful materials from our cells.5

Where it’s found

Folate is naturally found in many foods, mainly vegetables (hence its name, which originates from the Latin word folium, which means “leaf”), as well as fruits and legumes. Folate is also added to breads and cereals through a process called fortification. Specific examples of folate-rich foods include:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Cereals, breads, and grains

You can also get vitamin B9 in the form of folic acid from dietary supplements. These include supplements containing only folic acid, as well as some multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, and B complex supplements.6

Daily requirements

The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate (i.e. the amount that is likely to meet the needs of most healthy people) is 65-80 micrograms (μg) for infants, 150 μg for children aged 1-3 years, 200 μg for children aged 4-8 years, 300 μg for children aged 9-13 years, and 400 μg for individuals aged 14 years and over.1 For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, the RDA increases to 600 μg and 500 μg, respectively.1

These RDA values are expressed as μg of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs), which is a standardized measure that accounts for the different forms of folate (i.e., folate from food and folic acid from supplements).1

Folate deficiency

Folate deficiency can have a wide range of health consequences. It can cause megaloblastic anemia, a condition in which red blood cells fail to mature and become abnormally large in size.2 Symptoms of megaloblastic anemia include fatigue, weakness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and swelling of the tongue.1

Folate deficiency can also impair growth and development. For example, folate deficiency may lead to neural tube defects (NTDs), which are a type of birth defect that can affect the spine, skull, or brain.6 Preventing NTDs is partly why getting enough folate is so critical during pregnancy, and why the RDA for folate is higher for pregnant women.

Folate deficiency is also associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease.2 This may be in part due to elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood.2

Most people get enough folate through their diet, so deficiency is relatively rare.6 Nonetheless, folate deficiency does still occur, and is more common among certain groups of people. Groups that may be at a higher risk include people with alcoholism (since alcohol may reduce folate absorption and increase folate breakdown), pregnant women (due to increased folate requirements), and people with malabsorptive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease (which may interfere with folate absorption).6

Can you get too much folate?

To prevent toxicity, a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) has been established for folate. The UL for folate, or the maximum amount that is considered safe, is 300 μg for children aged 1-3 years, 400 μg for children aged 4-8 years, 600 μg for children aged 9-13 years, 800 μg for adolescents aged 14-18 years, and 1,000 μg for adults over the age of 19 years.1

Fun facts

Cereal and grain products are actually required to be fortified with folate. This mandate has been in place since 1998, with the goal of preventing NTDs.7

Folate is closely related to another B vitamin called cobalamin (or vitamin B12). The two work together to carry out many of the same functions, and they share similar signs of deficiency.1 In fact, consuming excess amounts of folate may mask vitamin B12 deficiency, which is part of the reason that a Tolerable Upper Intake Level was established for folate.1

References

  1. Institute of Medicine. (1998). Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  2. Ebara S. (2017). Nutritional role of folate. Congenital anomalies, 57(5), 138–141.
  3. Duthie S. J. (2011). Folate and cancer: how DNA damage, repair and methylation impact on colon carcinogenesis. Journal of inherited metabolic disease, 34(1), 101–109.
  4. Kaplan, P., Tatarkova, Z., Sivonova, M. K., Racay, P., & Lehotsky, J. (2020). Homocysteine and Mitochondria in Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(20), 7698.
  5. Ouyang, Y., Wu, Q., Li, J., Sun, S., & Sun, S. (2020). S-adenosylmethionine: A metabolite critical to the regulation of autophagy. Cell proliferation, 53(11), e12891.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). Folate: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/#h3
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (1996). Food Standards: Amendment of Standards of Identity For Enriched Grain Products to Require Addition of Folic Acid. Federal Register. 61: 8781-97. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1996-03-05/pdf/96-5014.pdf

Dietary supplement

You can use a dietary supplement of Folate (B9) if you think your diet lacks this nutrient.

A highly potent supplement designed to fit your lifestyle.

Use the list below to check if your diet has enough Folate (B9) intake.

Food high in Folate (B9)

This list shows food that are top sources of Folate (B9) and the quantity of Folate (B9) in 100g of food

Folate (B9)
RDA
0.557 mg
139%
0.437 mg
109%
0.303 mg
76%
0.24 mg
60%
0.194 mg
49%
0.184 mg
46%
0.16 mg
40%
0.152 mg
38%
0.146 mg
37%
0.109 mg
27%
0.081 mg
20%
0.068 mg
17%
0.065 mg
16%
0.063 mg
16%
0.061 mg
15%
0.057 mg
14%
0.049 mg
12%

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Food
Fruit Vegetables Meat Dairy Eggs Bread Superfood Legumes Cereals Nuts and Seeds Seafood Other Spices and Herbs
Macronutrients Carbohydrate Fat Protein Water Fiber
Vitamins Thiamin (B1) Riboflavin (B2) Niacin (B3) Pantothenic Acid (B5) Pyridoxine (B6) Folate (B9) Cobalamine (B12) Ascorbic Acid (C) Vitamin A Vitamin K Vitamin E Vitamin D
Minerals Calcium (Ca) Iron (Fe) Magnesium (Mg) Phosphorus (P) Potassium (K) Sodium (Na) Zinc (Zn) Copper (Cu) Manganese (Mn) Iodine (I) Selenium (Se) Fluoride (F)
Amino acids Arginine Histidine Lysine Aspartic Acid Glutamic Acid Serine Threonine Asparagine Glutamine Cysteine Selenocysteine Glycine Proline Alanine Isoleucine Leucine Methionine Phenylalanine Tryptophan Tyrosine Valine