Folic acid or vitamin B9 is an important vitamin for the proper functioning of the brain, production of red blood cells and the formation of DNA.
This vitamin is essential for pregnant women, infant, and adolescents because it helps in the growth and development of cells and tissues. A diet low in folic acid may cause anemia, which makes you tired, weak and pale.
Eating foods rich in folic acid reduce the production of unhealthy compounds in the body that otherwise increases the risk of heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, high cholesterol level and hypertension.
Health Benefits of Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Let us now look at the health benefits of folic acid:
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
Folic acid is important for a healthy pregnancy. Consuming folic acid-rich foods before pregnancy can boost fertility and enhance your chances of getting pregnant.
The requirement of folic acid increases during pregnancy because it plays an essential role in the growth and development of the fetus.
Deficiency of folic acid during this phase is associated with abnormalities such as peripheral neuropathy and anemia in pregnant women and congenital abnormalities in fetuses.
Getting enough folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent neural tube defects, birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
Folic Acid Lowers Bad Cholesterol
Folic acid plays a beneficial role in lowering high cholesterol level. Bile is a substance which is required for the digestion of fat and it is produced in the body from cholesterol.
Folic acid helps in lowering cholesterol level by increasing the excretion of bile from the body via feces. The body then uses more cholesterol to produce bile. By doing so, the cholesterol level in the body reduces.
Folic acid also enhances the metabolism of fat. Thus, fat is used as a source of energy and less of it is stored in the body and converted to bad cholesterol.
Along with a low-fat diet and good quality fat intake, folic acid rich foods might help individuals with high cholesterol level. (3)
Blood Pressure-Lowering Effect of Folic Acid
High blood pressure increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke. Research has found a positive link between the high level of homocysteine, a substance that can damage the inner lining of the blood vessels and high blood pressure.
Homocysteine increases oxidative stress by increasing the production of free radicals. This results in a reduction of nitric oxide, a natural vasodilator that helps in the widening of the arteries.
Intake of folic acid reduces the level of homocysteine in the blood. Folic acid possesses antioxidant properties that eliminate free radicals and help in lowering blood pressure.
It further helps in the relaxation of blood vessels and enhances smooth blood flow. Hence, low sodium diet should be clubbed with high folic acid intake for better management of high blood pressure. (4, 5)
Also Read: Ayurvedic Treatment for High Blood Pressure
Folic Acid Reduces the Risk of Heart Diseases
Low level or deficiency of folic acid is associated with high level of homocysteine in the blood. Such a high level of homocysteine causes damage to the blood vessels and formation of blood clots. These factors may lead to heart disease.
Blood clots obstruct the flow of blood and may cause a heart attack. Increasing the intake of folic acid reduces homocysteine level, hardening of arteries and in turn, lowers the risk of heart diseases and stroke. (6, 7)
Folic Acid Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientific studies have found that individuals with high intake of folic acid are at a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Increased level of homocysteine in the blood doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It causes damage to the DNA of nerve cells present in the brain.
Folic acid is one such B-vitamin that is very effective in lowering high level of homocysteine. It enhances the health of brain cells and nerve cells in the brain.
Folic acid also protects the area of the brain that controls memory and learning. Hence, eating folic acid-rich foods can protect the brain against damage and prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. (8, 9)
Deficiency of folic acid is positively linked to depression, mood swings, and anxiety.
Eating foods high in folic acid may potentiate the action of antidepressants. Whereas, individuals with low folic acid levels respond poorly to antidepressants.
Folic acid indirectly enhances the production of brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These brain chemicals improve mood and contribute to happiness and wellbeing.
A deficiency of these chemicals may lead to depression. The main cause of deficiency of brain chemicals can be an elevated level of homocysteine. Folic acid lowers the level of homocysteine in the body and thus, it fights depression and anxiety. (10, 11)