Did you know folic acid has a vital role in the creation of red blood cells? And if you don’t have enough folic acid, your body can respond by making abnormally large red blood cells that don’t work properly.
It can come as a surprise that folic acid contributes to so many aspects of wellness in addition to fetal development during early pregnancy. Here we explain what folic acid does and why it’s not only pregnant women who need more of it.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a manmade form of a B vitamin called folate. Folate is what helps the body make healthy red blood cells, which is found in certain foods. It’s also known as vitamin B9. In fact, you’ve probably seen the terms folate and folic acid used interchangeably. But there’s an important difference.
What is the difference between folic and folate?
Folic acid is a synthetic type of vitamin B9. It’s used in vitamin supplements and added to certain fortified foods (for example, cereals.) Our bodies can use this form more efficiently than folates. Folate is a natural type of vitamin B9. It’s found in green, leafy vegetables, some meats, citrus fruits, legumes, brown rice and wholemeal bread.
Does your body need folic acid?
The answer is a resounding yes. And it’s for an important reason. Folic acid helps your body form healthy red blood cells. Yes, those very important vessels that carry oxygen around your body. Unfortunately, if you don’t have enough red blood cells, or they are badly formed, your organs and tissues receive less oxygen. If this happens, you may find that you’ll suffer with a folic acid deficiency, otherwise known as folate deficiency anemia.
How does that affect males?
A folic acid deficiency in men, as in women, can trigger a range of anemia-type symptoms, including:
- Extreme tiredness
And on top of its cell producing power, folic acid also contributes to the formation and repair of DNA.
Yes, this is a vitamin that men shouldn’t underestimate.
Can a man take folic acid?
Yes, there is often a lot said about what folic acid can do for women, but very little about men. But there are some great benefits for men, which we’ll go into below.
What does folic acid do for men?
Folic acid plays just as much of an important role for men as it does for women. Below we have pulled together the benefits it has on the male body.
Folic acid benefits for men:
- Support those with folic acid deficiency
- If you dodge green vegetables, overcook your food and generally don’t follow a healthy diet, you may find a folic acid deficiency is what’s causing you to feel more tired and lethargic (among other things.)
- Increasing your folic acid intake can help replenish your levels of this vital vitamin.
Supports male fertility
There’s more research needed here. But some studies suggest there could be a link between the amount of folic acid in a man’s diet and the genetic quality of his sperm. Supports heart and cardiovascular health. Folic acid helps support homocysteine metabolism in your blood – an amino acid that may damage the inner walls of your arteries. Studies suggest a good dose of folic acid can keep blood vessels open and clear of blockages, which could benefit males at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Folate contributes to normal psychological function, so increasing your folic acid intake could help those experiencing mood disorders.
Are you getting enough folic acid?
Your body can’t store folic acid. As a result, you need to top up your folic acid intake frequently. The NHS recommends adults (male and female) need 200 micrograms of folate every day. In reality, not everyone gets the amount they need from their meals. So, although a healthy, balanced diet is a good start, there are some things that mean getting your recommended folic acid from food isn’t always straightforward.
For example, even if you meticulously plan meals so you get a good dose of folates in your daily diet, excessive alcohol consumption, some gastrointestinal conditions and certain medications can interfere with the body’s absorption of this B vitamin.
Symptoms of low folic acid in men
It can be hard to recognize if you need to increase your intake of this vitamin. Some of the common symptoms of folic acid deficiency in men include:
- An absence of energy
- Severe tiredness
- Breathlessness and feeling faint
- Pale skin
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Change in sense of taste
- Pins and needles
- Muscle weakness
If you suspect you have a folate deficiency, consult your doctor who can advise on the correct folic acid dosage for your personal circumstances.
Sources of folates and folic acid
There are two main ways that you can experience the benefits of bolstering your levels of vitamin B9.
Eat more folate rich foods. Try adding more leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, legumes, wheat bran and cereals fortified with folic acid to your daily diet.
Some great sources of folic acid include:
- Spinach, kale, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.
- Peas, lentils and beans (including chickpeas and black-eyed beans).
- Yeast and beef extracts (including Marmite and Bovril) Oranges and orange juice.
- Wheat bran and other wholegrain foods.
- Poultry, shellfish and liver.
You can increase your folic acid levels by taking folic acid tablets daily to replenish your vitamin B9 levels. As a general benchmark, it usually takes around four months to restore a deficiency. The best source of folic acid for you will depend on what benefits you’re looking for and the cause of any deficiency.
Is folic acid safe for everyone?
It is considered that folic acid is safe when taken by mouth at a dosage of 200 micrograms per day. Exceeding this dosage may result in some side effects, which are listed below. If you have any concerns then please speak to your Doctor or a health professional ahead of taking any folic acid supplements.
Side effects of folic acid
There are three main side effects of taking too much folic acid, these include
- Feeling sick (nausea) – for pregnant women, this is more likely to be morning sickness
- Loss of appetite
- Bloating or wind
In severe cases, folic acid can cause anaphylaxis if there is a rare allergic reaction Please talk to your Doctorif any of these side effects concern you or do not go away.
Should men take folic acid?
Despite its reputation, folic acid isn’t a women’s only vitamin. Although an important ingredient in prenatal supplements, the folic acid benefits for men are also convincing. Maintaining a healthy level of this B vitamin certainly offers a whole range of wellness benefits for men and women.
(Author is a Microbiologist Certified infection control Auditor, Kidney Hospital Srinagar Jkakroo@gmail.com)