After my recent blog post on nutrient-related anemias, it only seemed right to fill you in on everything you need to know about vitamin B9 and its role in our health. 

Vitamin B9 is also known as folate. It is one of eight water-soluble vitamins that are part of our diet. Although there are 8 B vitamins, they are not numbered 1 to 8. 

Role of Folate in the Body 

Vitamin B9 is used as a coenzyme in many reactions throughout our bodies, including the construction of our DNA and RNA and the breakdown of amino acids. This means folate is important for the division and replication of cells that occurs during fetus development. It plays a particularly important role in the development of our spinal cord. 

How Much Do I Need?

There are many factors that influence how much riboflavin our bodies need. Some of these factors are our age and sex. Health Canada recommends healthy adults consume 400 micrograms of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs)  each day, and children between 4 to 18 years consume 300 micrograms of DFE daily. For a complete list of recommended daily allowances (RDAs), visit Health Canada’s website.

1 microgram DFE is equal to 1 microgram of folate from food, or 0.6 micrograms from fortified foods or dietary supplements. You can learn more about DFE from the National Institutes of Health website

Am I At Risk of Deficiency?

Folate deficiency does not normally occur by itself. Instead, it usually happens alongside other nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Populations at risk of deficiency include, 

    • People with an alcohol dependency 
    • People at childbearing age 
    • Pregnant people 
    • People with GI conditions that may impact absorption of nutrients

If we don’t eat enough vitamin B9, we can increase our risk of folate-deficiency anemia, as well as other conditions. Additionally, women who are not consuming enough folate in their diet have a higher risk of having babies with neural tube defects (NTDs)

Signs and symptoms of folate deficiency include, 

    • Weakness 
    • Fatigue 
    • Trouble concentrating 
    • Headaches 
    • Irregular heartbeats 
    • Shortness of breath

Check out the National Institutes of Health’s website for other signs and symptoms of folate deficiency.

Can I Have Too Much Folate?

Although large amounts of folate may be used to treat folate-deficiency anaemia, too much can be a bad thing. Consuming large amounts of vitamin B9 in our diet may hide vitamin B12 deficiency, which can impact our brain. 

Some studies suggest that folate supplements may increase the development of lesions in our intestine, leading to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. 

Where Can I Find Folate? 

We can find folate in many animal- and plant-based foods. It is also added to other foods to increase their nutritional value. Some of the top folate-rich foods are, 

    • Spinach
    • Fortified breakfast cereals 
    • Asparagus 
    • Brussel sprouts 
    • Romaine lettuce 
    • Avocado 
    • Broccoli 
    • Green peas 
Two heads of broccoli on a chopping board. Broccoli is a good source of folate.

Dietary Supplements

Like most other vitamins and minerals, vitamin B9 can also be found as a dietary supplement. Folate can be found as an individual supplement, in B-complex supplements, prenatal vitamins and multivitamins.

Folate is particularly important for women of a childbearing age, and supplementation is sometimes encouraged. 

Interaction with Medications

Vitamin B9 supplements can interact with some medications including some cancer, autoimmune, epilepsy and ulcerative colitis medications. Remember to always check with your doctor or dietitian before starting new supplements to prevent any side effects from interactions with medications. 

For more on the role of vitamins and minerals in promoting health and supporting our bodies, check out the Micronutrient Monday series.

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