Vitamin B9, or folate, is an essential vitamin for the body because it allows it to form DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and red blood cells, which are the building blocks of the body. This nutrient is especially important for pregnant women because its deficiency, which is quite common, can lead to serious complications such as birth defects and anemia. Thus, health professionals almost always recommend folic acid supplementation at the start of pregnancy. “It is essential for pregnant women to take folic acid supplements to support the healthy growth and development of the fetus”, explains dietician Julia Zumpano, in a Mayo Clinic publication. “When you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, it is extremely difficult to get the amount of vitamin B9 needed”, she adds.
Folate or folic acid: what are the differences?
Vitamin B9 is one of the eight B vitamins that help the body convert carbohydrates from food into glucose, in order to have the energy necessary to live. This nutrient is essential for the good health of the liver, skin, hair, eyes, and for the proper functioning of the nervous system. There are three main forms of vitamin B9:
folate: it is naturally present in food and refers to all forms of vitamin B9, including folic acid;
synthetic B9 folic acid found in supplements and fortified foods that must be processed by the body to be used;
Methylfolate (5-MTHF): This is a natural form of vitamin B9 supplement that is easier to digest than folic acid and the body can use immediately.
Since this vitamin is water soluble, it breaks down very quickly and any excess is therefore passed out in the urine. However, this is not the case for synthetic folic acid found in supplements and fortified foods.
Heart disease, liver disease… the benefits of B9
The specialist also explains that several studies report many benefits of vitamin B9, and in particular for:
promote heart health: “Health care providers may prescribe B9 to reduce high blood levels of homocysteine, a chemical that makes proteins (amino acids) that can harden your arteries”, advances the dietician;
Improve cognition: Taking folic acid could improve memory and thinking skills in older people who are experiencing faster-than-normal decline. An April 2021 study also suggested a possible link between folate deficiency and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease;
prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a recent study found that eating foods containing vitamin B12 and folic acid slowed disease progression and reversed liver fibrosis (thickened scar tissue) and swelling (inflammation) ;
reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD): a large study published last year revealed that women who took daily supplements of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 had a reduced risk of developing this eye disease;
prevent age-related hearing loss: this study suggests that folic acid supplements may help slow it down in older people with low-folate diets and high levels of homocysteine (this amino acid is used as marker in anti-aging medicine).
Vitamin B9: in which foods do we find the most?
A wide variety of foods naturally contain folate. but those that contain the most are: legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.). dark leafy green vegetables (such as spinach. asparagus, brussels and beets) and animal livers.
ANSES (National Agency for Health and Food Safety) estimates the average nutritional requirements of B9 according to the age of the population. This ranges from 90 mcg/day for children 1-3 years old to 250 mcg/day for women and men over 15 years old.