Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic Acid)
As one of the B-complex vitamins, B9 has perhaps one of the most recognizable scientific names: folate (in natural foods) and folic acid (as a supplement). This essential vitamin’s primary purpose is to help the body produce genetic material, especially during pregnancy, early childhood and into adolescence. It also helps prevent or treat a number of medical conditions, such as pregnancy-related anemia.
Foods with B9
Since B9 is water soluble (like all B vitamins), it cannot be stored within the body. Thus, the primary source of Vitamin B9 is from the foods we eat. Fortunately, it is present in a wide variety of foods including:
- Nuts and seeds, especially hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, flax seeds and almonds
- Whole grains, bulgur wheat and wheat germ
- Fruits (especially citrus) and berries such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and raspberries, and juices made from them
- Beans including soybeans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, black beans and white beans
- Spinach, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts and other leafy greens
- Certain root vegetables like turnips and beets
- Other vegetables including corn, celery, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, okra and peas
- Certain animal products like beef liver and salmon
- Dairy products
B9 Nutrition Information
Vitamin B9 is essential for helping the body replicate genetic material, including DNA and RNA. Because of this, maintaining an adequate supply of B9 is especially important for people experiencing rapid growth, including pregnant mothers, infants and teenagers.
Folate vs. Folic Acid
Folate is the name for vitamin B9 that occurs naturally in foods such as various types of nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. In reality, there are several different folates, all of which serve a similar purpose in the human body.
Folic acid is the name of vitamin B9 in supplement form. The chemical makeup of folic acid is slightly different from the naturally occurring form, and studies have shown that it may take the body longer to process folic acid. Even so, because of the importance to vitamin B9 in the human growth process, many countries require that certain foods – such as grain products like breads and cereals – be fortified with folic acid to ensure healthy development.
Vitamin B9 Helps Prevent Birth Defects
Numerous studies have shown that women who do not take in a sufficient amount of vitamin B9 during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children with certain birth defects. The types of defects most often associated with B9 deficiency during pregnancy include:
- Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida – a severe condition that prevents the spinal cord from being fully enclosed by the spine and surrounding tissues
- Cleft palate – a deformation that occurs when facial tissues don’t close together properly during pregnancy
- Congenital heart defects – imperfections that develop in the heart during pregnancy
In general, women who are pregnant should get 400 – 600 micrograms (μg) of vitamin B9 per day (recommendations vary).
Medical Uses of Vitamin B9
There are a number of additional medical uses of vitamin B9.
Fertility: In addition to preventing birth defects, B9 can help increase fertility in both men and women.
Strokes: Some studies have indicated that B9 can help prevent strokes by reducing levels of homocysteine – an amino acid that can damage certain types of cells – and by regulating blood pressure.
Depression: There is some evidence that low levels of folate in the body may be linked with depression; however, further studies are needed.
Degenerative Conditions: At least one study has shown that taking supplements that include folic acid can reduce the likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration, a condition that can result in loss of vision. Likewise, vitamin B9 may be helpful in preventing hearing loss in old age.
*This page is for informational purposes only and shouldn't replace medical advice.