Health Benefits of Folate

Folate is a member of the B complex family. It was first discovered in 1931.1

The vitamin got its name from the Latin word folium, which means leaf. This is directly attributed to its abundance in leafy green vegetables.

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is essential for the formation of red blood cells and DNA. It's also crucial for normal fetal development. 2

Folate Prevents Pregnancy Complications and Birth Defects

Because the Western diet is high in processed foods, folate deficiencies are relatively common in the U.S. In 1960, it was discovered that folate is needed to prevent neural tube defects in unborn children and avert cleft palate.3

Sufficient intake of folate may reduce the risk of pre-term delivery, low birth weight, fetal growth retardation, spontaneous abortion, and pre-eclampsia. For these reasons, it is essential that pregnant women consume adequate amounts.

Because of the low folate content of refined grains, the American government (and others) mandated the fortification of white flour with folic acid in 1998. This measure is believed to be responsible for the decline in neural tube defects observed since then.

Folate Prevents Multiple Diseases

Increased folate intake may protect against multiple diseases, including:

  • Dementia (including Alzheimer's disease) 4 
  • Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia5 
  • Breast cancer6 
  • Ovarian cancer7 
  • Prostate cancer8 
  • Endothelial dysfunction9 
  • Venous thromboembolism10 
  • Stroke11,12,13 
  • Elevated homocysteine14 
  • Peripheral arterial disease15 
  • Acute coronary events16 
  • Hypertension17 
  • Cognitive decline18,19 
  • Hearing loss20,21 
  • Macular degeneration22, 23 
  • Depression24,25 …and more.

Folate Lowers Homocysteine

Elevated homocysteine plays a role in cardiovascular disease and other conditions associated with aging. Through a process called remethylation, homocysteine is converted to a harmless essential amino acid called methionine. This process requires the active form of folate (5-MTHF), which acts as a methyl donor, and vitamin B12.

Due to genetic mutations in the genes that encode the enzymes responsible for converting folic acid to 5-MTHF, not everyone can remethylate homocysteine to methionine. This has led to the concern that unmetabolized folic acid could remain high in their blood.

Fortunately, the potential problem is solved by supplementing with active folate (offered as L-methylfolate by Life Extension). L-methylfolate has been shown to be seven times more bioavailable than folic acid, and it also has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier where it enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter needed for learning and memory.

Does Folic Acid Cause Cancer?

Shortly after it was mandated that grains be fortified with folic acid (a synthetic form of folate), cases of colorectal cancer increased temporarily. This raised the concern that folic acid might actually be the cause.

While later studies have contradicted this idea,26,27,28 some people prefer to limit their folate intake to what occurs in food or in methylfolate supplements, which do not increase blood levels of unmetabolized folic acid.


1. J Clin Pathol. 2003 Apr; 56(4): 313–315.
2. Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Oct;40(5):1154-6.
3. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2011 Apr;30(178):295-9.
4. Neurol. 2001 May 8;56(9):1188-94.
5. Lancet. 2001 Dec 8;358(9297):1935-1940.
6. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Mar 5;95(5):373-80.
7. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004 Mar 3;96(5):396-402.
8. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 Apr;14(4):944-8.
9. Circulation. 2002 Jan 1;105(1):22-6.
10. Lancet. 2002 Mar 2;359(9308):747-752.
11. Stroke. 2002 May;33(5):1183-8.
12. Stroke. 2004 Jan;35(1):169-74.
13. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Apr 15;167(8):954-61.
14. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Aug;56(8):748-54.
15. J Nutr. 2003 Sep;133(9):2863-7.
16. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Aug;80(2):317-23.
17. JAMA. 2005 Jan 19;293(3):320-9.
18. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;82(3):627-35.
19. Lancet. 2007 Jan 20;369(9557):208-16.


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