The Surprising Reason You Should Be Getting More Folate In Your System

Folate, or Vitamin B9, is best known for its role in pregnancy. Expecting mothers are often told to take folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, to prevent birth defects. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that all women who could become pregnant should get at least 400 micrograms of this B vitamin from food, supplements, or both. What you may not know is that folate seems to have many other positive effects on the body, from red blood cell production to immune support, per Cleveland Clinic.

This B-complex vitamin occurs naturally in citrus fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and beef liver. Consumers can also purchase bread, cereals, flour, pasta, and other foods fortified with folic acid. But the human body cannot store large amounts of folate, notes the U.S. Library of Medicine. That's why it's important to eat folate-rich foods every day, not just occasionally.

But why is folate so important? Here's the surprising reason you should be getting more of it.

Increase your folate intake to prevent anemia

Most people associate anemia with iron deficiency. While it's true that low iron levels can lead to anemia, folate deficiency may have similar effects. The National Institute of Health reports that a folate deficiency can affect your body's ability to produce red blood cells, resulting in megaloblastic anemia — a condition that causes fatigue, headaches, and overall weakness. Some people may also experience digestive problems, irritability, and loss of appetite, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine.

If you're constantly tired and low on energy, your diet might be the culprit. Poor nutrition, binge drinking, and certain medications or disorders that affect your body's ability to absorb folate can all increase the risk of anemia (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). As we noted above, this condition seems to be more common among pregnant women. If your doctor suspects you have folate deficiency anemia, depending on your test results, you may simply need to get more folate in your diet. 

In addition to helping stave off anemia, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, folate helps your body metabolize vitamins B6 and B12, two nutrients that promote cardiovascular health. In clinical trials, people who took folic acid supplements had lower rates of stroke and heart disease. Some studies suggest that vitamin B9 may also protect against cancer due to its role in DNA synthesis and cellular repair (per the outlet). Moreover, it appears to have beneficial effects on brain function and mental health, reports the NIH.