Vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid) is part of the B vitamin group. Vitamin B9 is often associated with pregnancy as expectant mums will be advised to take folic acid supplements during pregnancy. But vitamin B9 is not just for new mums. It is essential in helping all of us to keep healthy by supporting our growth, development, and nerve and brain function.
- Vitamin B9 vs Folic acid vs Folate: what’s the difference?
- Vitamin B9 Food Sources
- Daily requirement
- Why do I need Vitamin B9?
- Vitamin B9 Benefits
- Vitamin B9 Deficiency
- Vitamin B9 Excess
- Who should not take vitamin B9 supplements?
- Bottom Line
Vitamin B9 vs Folic acid vs Folate: what’s the difference?
Folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9, meaning you can use either to get B9 into your diet. Folate is found naturally in foods. High-folate foods include asparagus, spinach, and avocado. Folic acid is a synthetic form of B9. Folate is more easily absorbed by the body, whereas folic acid has to be absorbed by the liver. However, folic acid is more heat-stable than folate as the B9 in food can be destroyed by overcooking it. This means that folic acid can be a great option to supplement B9 intake, especially if you do not eat many fresh vegetables.
Vitamin B9 Food Sources
Vitamin B9 is found naturally in many foods. Good vitamin B9 sources include:
- Dark green vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
- Brussels sprouts
- Brown rice
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Adults should eat 0.2mg of vitamin B9 per day. Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should up this dose to 0.4mg daily by taking a folic acid supplement.
Why do I need Vitamin B9?
Vitamin B9 is essential for reducing the risk of central nervous system defects (such as spina bifida) in unborn babies. But vitamin B9 plays an important role for everyone (not just expectant mums). Together with vitamin B12, it helps our bodies form healthy red blood cells and produce DNA (our genetic material).
Vitamin B9 Benefits
The main health benefits of vitamin B9 include:
- Lower risk of neural tube defects
- Lower risk of stroke
- Possible reduced risk of cognitive decline
- Prevent birth defects and pregnancy complications
- Maintaining brain health
- Treating folate deficiency
- Treating mental health conditions like depression, schizophrenia or dementia
Vitamin B9 and folic acid can also help with other health conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, fertility issues, hearing loss or inflammation.
Many claims are made about the benefits of vitamin B9 including growing evidence that it may help with the treatment of dementia (along with vitamin B12 and vitamin B6). People with dementia often have high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in their blood. Vitamin B9, together with vitamins B12 and B6 appears to lower homocysteine levels. More research is needed in this area.
Vitamin B9 Deficiency
If you lack vitamin B9 you may become anaemic causing you to feel tired and listless (although be aware that this may also be due to a vitamin B12 deficiency). Other signs that you may be low in vitamin B9 include mouth ulcers, poor growth, a swollen tongue, loss of sensation and muscle weakness.
If your doctor suspects that you are anaemic he or she will test to see if you are deficient in vitamin B9 and also vitamin B12. ‘Folate deficiency anaemia’ can usually be treated with prescribed vitamin B9 tablets. Most people will need to take these for a period of four months.
Vitamin B9 Excess
As vitamin B9 and vitamin B12 work closely together, taking too much vitamin B9 may mask the fact that you have a vitamin B12 deficiency which, left untreated, can lead to nerve damage. If you are diagnosed as anaemic it’s important to also check for a vitamin B12 deficiency as large amounts of vitamin B9 will treat the anaemia but not compensate for any deficiency in B12.
Who should not take vitamin B9 supplements?
B9 supplements are safe for most people to take, but there are some cases where people should avoid high doses of B9 supplements or folic acid. This includes:
- People recovering from angioplasty (a procedure to widen arteries)
- People with a history of cancer
- People who suffer from seizures
Even if you do not have any of these problems, you should be careful to monitor your B9 supplement intake. Children have a vastly different maximum dose compared to adults. You should also get advice on your B9 intake if you have liver issues, as the liver helps break down B9 supplements. If in doubt, consult a doctor.
B9 is a vital vitamin that your body needs to function properly. While pregnant women are advised to take B9 supplements, B9 is useful for all people, to support brain and nerve function. B9 can help lower your risk of stroke, prevent birth defects, help with mental health conditions, and more. There are a lot of foods that supply folate, the natural form of vitamin B9, or you can take folic acid to supplement your B9 intake. If you think you have the signs of vitamin B9 deficiency or B9 excess, you should consult a doctor. You should also be cautious about taking B9 if you have certain health conditions.