4 Folic Acid Benefits for Men
Nutrition is important for men and women, but some nutrients have different benefits depending on sex. Here are four benefits of folic acid for men.
By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
Folic acid isn’t just important for pregnancy. Research suggests that folic acid has rewarding effects on cardiovascular health, depression, fertility, and more. Read on to learn more about the benefits of folic acid.
What is folic acid
Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9 and is an important nutrient for fetal development, DNA maintenance, protein synthesis, RNA transfer, and more. Folic acid is found in many foods, especially leafy greens, fruits, nuts, dairy products, and grains. The highest folate level foods are spinach, liver, asparagus, and brussels sprouts. In the United States, many enriched breads, flours, pastas, and other grain products have been fortified with folic acid since 1998. This was put in place to help reduce neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida and proved successful by decreasing the prevalence of NTDs by at least 35%.
What is folate
A lot of people aren’t sure what the distinction is between folate vs folic acid, but there are a few differences between the two you should know about. Folate can also be labeled as methylfolate, MTHF folate, or other variations, and is essentially the broken down, usable form of folic acid. Folic acid alone doesn’t do much for our bodies, but after it’s metabolized, the body can use it properly for protein synthesis, DNA maintenance, and other benefits we’ll get to shortly. Folate is better absorbed by the body and isn’t as impacted by genetic and metabolic defects, such as the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene mutation. The bottom line is that both folic acid and MTHF folate will provide health benefits, but if you have a choice, folate is the better option.
High folate levels
There is such a thing as too much folate, and for most adults 19 years and older, the limit is 1,000 mcg. Folate supplementation higher than this upper limit has the potential to cause cognitive decline in adults, recurrence of cancer in some, and neural development issues in children. Folate is water-soluble, which makes it a little bit easier to shed when consumed in excess, but it’s still not recommended to exceed recommended dosages. Be sure to follow the dosage recommendations on all of your supplements or as advised by your healthcare provider.
Low folate levels
For most adults, the recommended daily amount of folate is about 400 mcg. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended a higher intake of 500-600 mcg. There is a low risk of folate deficiency in the United States as many products are required to be fortified with folate.
Some people are at a higher risk of folate deficiency or low folate levels, including:
Women of reproductive age
Men and women with celiac disease, IBS, or other disorders relating to nutrient absorption
Men and women with an MTHFR gene variant
Men and women that use alcohol heavily or regularly
If someone does have low levels of folate, symptoms could include:
Changes in hair, skin, and fingernails
High homocysteine levels
Folic acid benefits for men
It’s commonly known and discussed that folate is an essential nutrient while trying to conceive and while pregnant and breastfeeding. Folate helps fight off neural tube defects, increases the chance of full term pregnancies, and aids in getting pregnant. Folic acid can also be useful for men, and may benefit mental health, heart health, sperm health, and cancer risk.
1. Mental health
Did you know that men can suffer from postpartum depression? Whether or not postpartum stress is the culprit, close to 30% of men report having experienced depression at some point in their lifetime. Multiple studies have shown an association between low folate levels and depression, and there is some evidence that folate supplementation may help to reduce depression when used long term. Research also suggests that folate supplements may increase the efficacy of antidepressants for some.
2. Heart health
Folate is also a vital nutrient for supporting heart health. Folate plays a big role in converting homocysteine, a potentially damaging amino acid, into more useful substances. Too much homocysteine may lead to blood clots, blockages, and damaged arteries, all of which can raise the risk of a heart attack or severe heart disease. Folate supplements, along with vitamins B12 and B6, can help to reduce homocysteine levels and encourage healthy cardiovascular health.
3. Sperm health
A 2020 meta-analysis found associations between folate supplementation and increased sperm parameters, including an increase in sperm concentration. Another study also concluded that for some men, folate supplementation increased sperm count, sperm morphology, and sperm motility. While these studies are promising, there have been some studies finding little to no benefit from folate supplementation, so more evidence is still needed. We do know that no harm should come from eating or taking folate supplements, so if you’re interested, talk with your healthcare provider about adding a folate supplement to your vitamin routine!
4. Cancer risk
Low or deficient folate levels have been associated with an increased cancer risk. It’s also been observed that the natural form of folate found in food may decrease the risk of some forms of cancer. However, some research shows that taking high amounts of folate (more than the upper limit of 1,000 mcg/day) may speed up colorectal cancer progression. More research is still needed in this field, and a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment can vary greatly from person to person, so be sure to consult your doctor before adding folate into your vitamin routine.
Supplements should never be used to replace prescribed medications or therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing any health concerns including depression, infertility, heart disease, or cancer, be sure to talk to a professional.
Folate medication interactions
Folate is considered safe for most people, however there are some medication interactions to be aware of:
Methotrexate: This is a medication used to treat cancer and other autoimmune diseases. Folate may potentially interact with methotrexate, so patients should consult their healthcare provider before taking folate or folic acid
Antiepileptic medications: These include phenytoin, carbamazepine, and valproate. Medications used to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions may have reduced effects if taken with folate supplements.
Sulfasalazine: This is a drug used to treat ulcerative colitis. Folate absorption may be reduced by this medication, causing a need for increased dietary folate or supplementary folate as recommended by a healthcare professional.
There is a potential for interaction with other supplements and medications, so be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any conditions or medications you are currently taking before adding folate supplements to your diet.
More supplements for male fertility
Vitamin C also has antioxidant properties, which protects sperm from damage and increases parameters like sperm concentration, movement, and shape.
Get all of these beneficial nutrients and more in male prenatal daily packets
Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9 or folate, and is an important nutrient for fetal development, DNA maintenance, protein synthesis, and more.
The highest folate level foods are spinach, liver, asparagus, and brussels sprouts.
Many enriched breads, flours, pastas, and other grain products have been fortified with folic acid since 1998 in the United States.
Folate can also be labeled as methylfolate, MTHF folate, or other variations, and is the broken down, usable form of folic acid.
Folic acid can also be a useful supplement for men, and may benefit mental health, heart health, sperm health, and cancer risk.
Folate may interact with some medications used for cancer treatment, ulcerative colitis treatment, and antiepileptics.