Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. It is involved in DNA synthesis, red blood cell production, and proper cell division. Adequate intake is essential for overall health and well-being. In this article, we’ll delve into the importance of folate, discuss dietary sources, explore reasons for low folate levels in blood tests, highlight the benefits of optimal vs. normal levels, and shed light on health conditions that can arise due to deficiencies.
Dietary Sources of Folate
Folate is naturally found in many foods, making it relatively easy to incorporate into a balanced diet. Here are some excellent dietary sources:
- Black beans
- Fortified cereals
Reasons you may have Low Folate
Low folate levels in blood tests can be attributed to various factors:
- Poor diet: The most obvious reason is a having a diet that is low in high-folate foods like those listed above.
- Pregnancy: Additional problems can come if your body has higher folate needs. The demands increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and it’s recommended that women take 400mcg in the form of a folic acid tablet for the first trimester (Weeks 0-13). With that in mind, it’s best to supplement while you’re trying to conceive. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects that may otherwise occur.
- Malabsorption/medication: Certain medical conditions such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can affect your ability to utilise dietary folate. In rarer cases, a genetic variation may affect your ability to absorb folate from food. Oral contraceptives and other medications may also interfere with folate levels.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol intake can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and utilise it.
Benefits of Optimal Levels
While you may not be suffering from a deficiency, defined as below 8.83 nmol/L, you may not have optimal folate levels (30-45 nmol/L). Bridging the gap from normal to optimal offers several benefits to overall health and well-being:
- DNA synthesis and cell division: It plays a critical role in the synthesis and repair of DNA, which is crucial for healthy cell division and growth.
- Red blood cell production: It’s necessary for the production of red blood cells. Adequate levels support the formation of healthy red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body.
- Prevention of birth defects: As covered earlier, intake is vital before and during pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
- Heart health: Along with other B vitamins, it plays a role in maintaining cardiovascular health. It helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid that, when elevated, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Mental health and cognitive function: It’s involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are essential for mood regulation. Optimal folate levels have been linked to improved mental health and a reduced risk of depression. It also plays a role in cognitive function and may help support memory and overall brain health.
Folate is an essential nutrient that we may not give much consideration to in our daily diet. While a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is likely to contain sufficient amounts, that’s not the typical Western diet. If you read through the list of nutrient dense foods at the beginning and didn’t see anything you tend to eat, please consider adding something in. A large handful of spinach (50 grams) contains 100 of the 400 mcg of your recommended daily intake and is an easy addition to a meal. If you are concerned about deficiencies, it’s best to reach out to a health professional to arrange a blood test.