Folate Health Benefits - Why You Should Take Folate
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Folate Health Benefits – Why You Should Take Folate

Cooper Complete Photo of fruits, vegetables, black-eyed peas, fish and other foods with naturally-occurring folate

While most of us know folate is key in preventing birth defects for women of childbearing years, we may not be aware that it is used for a number of vital functions in the body for both men and women. From naturally-occurring folate to food products fortified with folic acid to the universally metabolized form of folate, it’s important to understand the benefits and risks of each type.

Naturally-occurring folate is commonly found in leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and kale) as well as avocado, citrus, eggs, broccoli and beans. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, not to be confused with its synthetic vitamin B9 sister folic acid, though they are often misused interchangeably. While folic acid is used in many fortified foods and dietary supplements, folate is used in DNA synthesis and repair, cellular division, protein synthesis, red blood cell production and maturation and the metabolism of the immune system. For women of childbearing age, folic acid is very important because it can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated food companies to add folic acid to enriched bread, flour, cornmeal, pasta, rice and other grain products. In 2016, the FDA allowed manufacturers to add folic acid to corn masa flour voluntarily. This FDA mandate has helped to increase folic acid intake among most Americans, thereby decreasing the number of babies born with neural tube defects.


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Folate Health Benefits

Many health benefits can be gained from taking folate, which include:

  • Decreases your risk for cancer. A study conducted in 2018 showed folate deficiency significantly increased one’s risk of developing many types of cancers.
  • Decreases symptoms of depression, especially in women. The methylfolate form in Cooper Complete multivitamins may increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.
  • Reduces homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that can cause artery damage, blood clots and cardiovascular disease if levels are too high. Folate, in combination with vitamin B12, can help regulate homocysteine levels.
  • Increases brain health. Folate seems to also improve some measures of cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
  • Creates new cells in the body for fetal development. It is important for women in their childbearing years to consume enough folate each day for optimal fetal development.

Folate Health Risks

While folate offers tremendous health benefits, taking too much folic acid (rather than folate in the 5-MTHF form) can contribute to significant health issues such as:

  • Taking 800 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid daily may increase cancer risk, particularly colorectal and prostate cancer.
  • Increased risk for kidney damage.
  • Taking too much folate can mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. The deficiency can cause damage to parts of the nervous system, particularly in the legs (also called peripheral neuropathy). This is a particular concern for older adults as vitamin B12 becomes difficult to absorb with age.

Daily Needs Of Folic Acid

On most supplement labels, folate is listed in micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs). The measurement is used because folate found naturally in foods is less absorbable than folate in supplements and fortified foods. Because folic acid in fortified foods and vitamins and supplements is better absorbed than naturally occurring folate, less is needed. The National Institutes of Health reports:


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  • 1 mcg DFE =  1 mcg naturally-occurring food folate
  • 1 mcg naturally-occurring food folate = 0.6 mcg folic acid from supplements and fortified foods

The CDC’s recommended daily intake of folic acid is 400 mcg DFE for adults.

Folate Health Benefits: What Supplement Form Is Best?

While many adults consume high levels of synthetic folic acid from fortified bread, pasta, rice and other grain products, Cooper Complete multivitamins provide 333 mcg DFE (200 mcg L-5-MTHF) of the naturally occurring universally metabolized form of folate known as Metafolin®. Metafolin is an active form of folate called L-5-MTHF, which is the main naturally-occurring form of folate in food. The L-5-MTHF form of folate is universally absorbable as it is directly usable by the body without enzymatic activation steps that some people genetically cannot naturally generate.

As a reminder, your physician understands your health profile best, so it’s important to talk to him or her about which supplements are best for you.

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