Fact Checked By Allison Tallman, RDN
October 7, 2021
Folate is a B-vitamin that is found naturally in many foods such as broccoli, leafy greens, chickpeas, beans, and brussels sprouts (1).
Your body needs folate to make DNA and other generic material and also to assist in cell division.
The synthetic form of folate, also known as folic acid, is found in fortified foods and in dietary supplements.
Both of these forms are helpful in many ways for the body, especially brain health.
Folate or folic acid has been shown to decrease neural tube defects in a baby, reduce depression, decrease risk of stroke, and much more.
While some may not consume adequate amounts of folate, supplementation with folic acid may be beneficial to promote the positive brain benefits.
Folate effects on brain health
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Another way that folate may play a role in brain health is to decrease levels of depression (2).
Research shows that people with low blood levels of folate are more likely to have depression.
Therefore, those who have depression may benefit from folate supplementation to decrease side effects of depression.
Folate supplements in the form of methylfolate have been shown to be the most effective.
Neural Tube Defects
There have been many research studies that show folate’s beneficial effect on brain health (3).
Women are recommended to take folic acid before becoming pregnant and during early pregnancy.
This is to help prevent neural tube defects in babies.
Neural tube defects play a role in a baby’s brain development.
Those who do not consume adequate folic acid may develop anencephaly.
This is when a baby is born without most of the brain and skull.
The brain also may not be covered by bone or skin and leads to poor survival rates. This is one reason showing how folate supplementation is beneficial for brain health.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Folic acid supplements could also potentially improve cognitive function; however, more research is needed (4).
One study showed that severe folate deficiency was associated with dementia.
In this study, intellectual function improved with folic acid supplementation.
The amount of folate that one needs depends on the individual’s age. Below is the daily recommended amount based on life stage (7).
Recommended daily amount (mcg)
Birth to 6 months
Adults 19+ years
The above measurements are in dietary folate equivalents (DFEs) as your body absorbs more folic acid from fortified foods or supplements than folate found naturally in foods.
Therefore, compared to folate found naturally in foods, one may actually need less folic acid to get the daily recommended amounts and health benefits.
For women and teenage girls who are pregnant, they need greater folate amounts due to the growth and development of their fetus, including their brain, during gestation.
To get the full positive health benefits of folate, it’s important to understand where to obtain adequate folate form (8).
Folate is found naturally in many foods such as beef liver, asparagus, brussels sprouts, fruits, nuts, beans and peas.
Folic acid is found in enriched bread, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified pastas.
It can be difficult for some individuals to consume adequate quantities of folate to promote positive brain health.
For those who have poor or low nutritional intake, such as those with alcoholism, those with chronic diseases like cancer that may lead to poor intake, or the elderly, daily folate consumption might be low.
Those who are picky eaters or don’t eat a well-balanced diet that is filled with variety, such as eating the foods above, may also be at risk of poor folate consumption.
People with disorders that lower nutrient absorption such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease may also be at risk of inadequate folate intake and therefore require folic acid supplementation.
To see the possible brain health benefits of folate, one may need to supplement their diet with folic acid.
Supplementation of 400 mcg of folic acid has been shown to be the most beneficial.
In addition to the supplement, it is recommended to take it with food to aid in absorption and decrease chances of gut discomfort.
Folate and folic acid do many things for your health, especially the brain.
Some of the important functions of folate include creating DNA and RNA, forming neurotransmitters, and forming the brain during pregnancy.
In its role, folate can reduce depression, decrease risk of neural tube defects in newborns, and many other benefits related to the brain.
If one wants to see the added health benefits of positive brain health, one might consider supplementation to ensure that adequate folate is consumed.
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