There exists a nutrient that can protect against cancer, fight heart disease and reduce your chances of having a stroke. It can also help with brain development and is a building block of DNA. In fact, it might also help to lower your cholesterol. This nutrient is so important that since 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required all bread, wheat and grain producers to add it to all flour and grain products. The nutrient is folate.
Folate (or folic acid) is a B9 vitamin that we need for all the reasons mentioned above and a few others. You can find folate in foods like
- leafy green vegetables,
- citrus fruits,
- dried beans,
- lentils, and
- enriched bread.
Here are 5 little-known things about folate that make it a vitamin worth talking about.
1- Cancer fighting
According to the National Institute of Health, modest amounts of folic acid can decrease the risk of developing certain cancers1. This applies to cancers like
- breast cancer,
- cervical cancer,
- pancreatic cancer, or
- stomach cancer2.
Scientists are still unsure why but one theory is that folate keeps DNA healthy and prevents mutations that can lead to cancer2. The only caveat is that you should take high doses of folate supplements (more than the upper limit of 1,000 mcg) with caution.
2- Heart disease and stroke
Some studies have shown that a combination of folate with other B-vitamins may help prevent strokes1. Strokes are usually caused by untreated high blood pressure. If you’re amongst the 1 in 3 American adults with high blood pressure, be sure you’re getting plenty of folate3.
Folate works alongside other B-vitamins it lowers blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine2. Research shows that people with high levels of homocysteine are roughly 1.7 times more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than those with normal levels of homocysteine2.
3- Age-related hearing loss and eye-sight
Folate is most famous for its use by pregnant women to help prevent birth defects. Folate should always be found in a prenatal supplement. But what’s not well known is that folate may help prevent hearing loss or eyesight damage in the elderly. Researchers in Britain found that folate supplements can help slow down the progression of age-related hearing loss in older adults4.
Another large study carried out in 2009 found that women who took 2,500 mcg of folate along with 500 mg of vitamin B6 and 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12 daily reduced their risk of developing Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)5. This is the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans.
4- Fighting depression
Folate is also crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in our mental and emotional health. People with low blood levels of folate might be more likely to suffer from depression1. Studies show that 15 to 38% of people with depression have low folate levels in their bodies2. Although more research is needed to verify the dose of folate required, there is a consensus amongst scientists that folate can help.
5- Lowering cholesterol
According to a 2008 article written in The New York Times Health Guide, more than one-half of the adult population in the United States suffers from high cholesterol6. Studies have shown that low folate levels are associated with a higher total cholesterol7. It’s thought that folate helps your body convert carbohydrates into blood sugar. High cholesterol levels can build up in the body and narrow the arteries making it harder for blood to flow. The buildup is what usually leads to problems.