Folic acid is a supplement often recommended for women. But does it benefit only them? Not quite.
Contrary to what some might think, folic acid actually plays key roles in such a wide array of bodily functions contributing to overall health, apart from being an essential nutrient for fetal development in pregnant women.
In fact, folic acid plays an integral role in creating the body’s own defense system – the red blood cells. If you lack sufficient amounts of folic acid, your body may respond by creating abnormal red blood cells that don’t function like they’re supposed to.
Folic acid is a synthesized version of folate. Folate is a nutrient that the body can’t produce, unlike other vitamins. One of the best sources of folate is liver from poultry, which ranks as one of the number one sources of the nutrient. Other dietary folate sources include plant-based sources like legumes, nuts, seeds, and beans, which vegans or vegetarians may wish to consume in place of organ meat. Folate is also found in avocados, citrus fruits, and green leafy vegetables.
Caution must still be exercised: before taking any supplement (even OTC or over-the-counter ones), consult your doctor. Excessive folic acid consumption may potentially be harmful. Moreover, folate may interfere with your body’s capacity to process particular medicines.
Most men who take folic acid as a supplement do so because, like most individuals who take dietary supplements, they’ve read or heard somewhere that it can help alleviate certain conditions. Let’s take a look at three reasons why folic acid is claimed to be good for men, and examine the proof to determine if they substantiate the claims.
Do men need folic acid?
Chances are, if you consume a balanced, healthy diet, enhancing your folic acid consumption with supplements is most likely unnecessary.
However, some conditions may also lead to folate deficiency, such as Crohn’s disease, liver disease, psoriasis, cancer, alcoholism, and diabetic enteropathy, apart from the usual suspect of a poor and inadequate diet (among many other factors). Folate deficiency may lead to megaloblastic anemia, which, from the sound of the name itself, just sounds like a severe health condition (which it is). Folate deficiencies may arise as a consequence of undergoing medical procedures such as surgery or dialysis.
Individuals with conditions linked to a folate deficiency may opt to get a screening to check their vitamin and mineral levels. Once confirmed to be low, their doctor may recommend the use of a folic acid supplement.
Is there a link between folic acid and male fertility?
Folic acid has long been used as part of the cocktail of ingredients in male performance enhancement supplements. It’s also available in health stores and pharmacies as a supplement, either by itself or combined with zinc.
You may have heard about the claims of folic acid being used to increase fertility by boosting sperm count and quality. The question thus remains: is folic acid a natural treatment for male fertility issues?
According to a review of historical medical studies, daily folic acid (or folic acid + zinc) may help men struggling with infertility (or those with inadequate fertility) by increasing sperm count. It must be noted, however, that supplementation did not appear to affect sperm function, therefore it is yet unclear if folic acid actually has an effect on fertility.
On the other hand, a recent study involving couples looking for treatments for infertility has doused the latter review of historical studies. Based on this test, no significant difference was found in infertile couples who took folic acid and zinc and those that took a placebo as far as sperm count and volume were concerned.
Follow-ups were conducted 18 months since the treatment started; however, no significant changes were found in couples who were able to conceive and give birth. The evidence suggests that there may not be as much benefits for fertility as historical reviews have otherwise shown.
What is the relationship between folic acid and cardiovascular health?
Everyone could stand to be a little more concerned about their cardiovascular health. After all, heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the world.
Folate plays a key role in diminishing homocysteine levels by converting it into methionine, an essential amino acid, thanks to its combination with vitamins B6 and B12.
High homocysteine levels lead to heart attacks, strokes, and a greater likelihood of developing coronary artery disease.
While research has supported the claim that taking B-vitamins reduces homocysteine concentrations, it doesn’t reduce cardiovascular disease risks.
Does folic acid have any effect on hair growth?
Many supplements are marketed with exaggerated claims of being able to totally stop or reduce hair loss – like many products promising improved male virility. Sometimes, folic acid is found in such supplements.
However, it must be noted that folate does play a part in promoting cell growth. That includes hair. That’s because folate creates a compound called methionine, known for its role in repairing hair cells. Moreover, folate deficiency has been linked to individuals who prematurely go grey.
The truth of the matter is that folic acid supplements haven’t been studied comprehensively enough to determine whether they are effective supplements for premature hair greying.
What are the potential dangers of taking folic acid?
Too much of anything is a bad thing. And just as a deficiency in folic acid can cause some serious health problems, too much of it can be just as worse. Moreover, taking too much folic acid may obfuscate deficiencies in vitamin B12 by masking its warning signs.
It’s important to keep in mind that folic acid and folate differ. Folic acid, when metabolized, delivers more folate than consuming foods with high folate content.
Therefore, the National Institutes of Health, through the Office of Dietary Supplements prescribes a daily intake of 400 mcg of folic acid. The high end of the spectrum of folic supplements are 1000 mcg for adults.
It may be a little confusing to achieve the perfect balance of folate in the body. However, naturally-occurring folate hasn’t been linked to the same concerns as folic acid does, so feel free to consume folate-rich whole foods as much as you wish. If your doctor hasn’t recommended you to take a folic acid supplement but still wish to load up on the folate, eating your green leafy vegetables and lentil soup is a good and tasty way to start.