Also known as folic acid or folate, vitamin B9 is part of the group of 8 B vitamins. This B complex vitamin is needed for many body functions like converting carbohydrates to glucose the fuel needed for energy. It is a water-soluble vitamin and can be got from a good diet or from supplements.
Health Benefits of Vitamin B9
The health benefits of vitamin B9 folic acid, folate or folacin include stroke, heart diseases, cancer, birth defects, muscle building,
hemoglobin formation and more. Here are some of the medical conditions that can benefit from the right quantities of vitamin B9.
Birth Defects : The health benefits of vitamin B9 have been most publicized for its help during pregnancy and in the prevention of birth defects. Pregnant women who suffer from vitamin B9 deficiency are more likely to have babies with birth defects. Neural tube defects occur soon after conception. Hence, women who plan a pregnancy must ensure they take at least 400mcg vitamin B9 per day and this should increase to 600mcg once they conceive. Women who consume the right quantities of this vitamin will reduce instances of neural tube defects by as much as 72%-100%.
The neural tube is important for the proper develop of the fetus. The top portion of the tube is where the baby’s brain is formed and the bottom portion the spinal column. Serious spinal and brain problems occur when the neural tube does not close properly and the result is a baby born with multiple defects.
Heart Disease : Health benefits of vitamin B9 is very important for the heart in several ways. Folic acid in the diet can reduce risk of contracting a heart disease. Other studies have shown that those with high homocysteine levels are 1.7 times more at risk of contracting coronary heart disease and more than 2.5 times at risk of suffering a stroke. B complex vitamins like Vitamin B9, B12 and B6 lower the levels of the amino acid homocysteine. The goal for everyone should be ensuring they eat a diet rich in all the B vitamins. This in itself will promote good health and protect you from heart diseases. Doctors often recommend taking B vitamins to reduce homocysteine levels.
Vitamin B9 also ensures that the amount of cholesterol deposited on the heart is controlled and it therefore helps to prevent various heart disorders.
Cancer : Some forms of cancers – cervical, breast, colon stomach and pancreatic – can be prevented with adequate vitamin B9 in food. The evidence is based on studies that show that those with more vitamin B9 in their diet have lower risk of contracting these cancers. The research throws no light on how folic acid can prevent cancers. Since vitamin B9 keeps DNA healthy, this is thought to help prevent cancer. Low intake of vitamin B9 can lead to greater incidence of breast cancer especially in women who consume alcohol regularly – i.e. 1-2 glasses per day.
Recommended Dosage of Vitamin B9
Some studies have found that the right amount of vitamin B9 in the form of multivitamins can protect those at risk of contracting colon cancer. Vitamin B9 can prevent growth of cancerous polyps in those who do not have such growths. However, excessive folic acid supplements can speed up the growth of polyps in those who already have them. All those at risk of such cancers must consult a doctor before taking any form of medication.
Depression : Certain studies have found that people with lower vitamin B9 levels are prone to depression – 15%-38%. Such people’s condition did not improve even with antidepressants as long as the folic acid levels remained low. A study found that the condition of women who took 500mcg of vitamin B9 along with Prozac – an antidepressant – improved. The same effect was not found in men. Another study found that a combination of vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 had the same effect as a placebo in older people and did not relieve depression.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration : Women who regularly consumed 500mg vitamin B6, 2500mcg vitamin B9 and 1000mcg Vitamin B12 were less at risk of developing AMD that causes loss of vision.
Age-Related Hearing Loss : Hearing loss in the elderly can be slowed with the help of folate supplements. The supplement was especially beneficial for older people with lower vitamin B9 levels and higher homocysteine levels.
Cell Enhancement : Vitamin B9 is a valuable component in forming RBC. It helps to build and repair skin cells. The cells lining the small intestine also need vitamin B9 for their fabrication. Vitamin B9 also plays a role in substituting old cells with new cells.
Other health benefits of Vitamin B9
- An important role of vitamin B9 is in improving levels of hemoglobin.
- Vitamin B9 also helps to maintain strong bones, prevent fractures and reduce risk of strokes since it controls homocysteine levels.
- Muscle tissues are kept strong with the help of vitamin B9.
- Synthesis of DNA is facilitated by vitamin B9 as it is said to be a coenzyme that works with other enzymes.
- Dementia, anxiety and other mental disorders can be treated with vitamin B9.
- Diseases that affect older people like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced by the right amounts of folate in the blood. These diseases are caused by high homocysteine levels that can be controlled by vitamin B9.
- Folic acid deficiency can lead to conditions like gingivitis, periodontal disease, cleft palate, vitiligo and seborrheic dermatitis.
Foods rich in Vitamin B9
Since a lot of foods contain this vitamin, the health benefits of vitamin B9 can be got from a healthy diet that comprises of dark green vegetables, spinach, turnip, beets, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, lima beans, kidney beans, root vegetables, white beans, bulgur wheat and brewer’s yeast. Other foods include beef liver, orange juice, salmon, avocado and milk. Fortified foods like cereals and grains also contain the required quantities of folic acid.
Precautions when taking Vitamin B9
Very high doses of vitamin B9 can cause sleep and stomach problems, seizures or skin reactions. Everyone must take dietary supplements under medical supervision. Older adults, pregnant women, those who suffer from cancer or heart disease must be careful when taking vitamin B9 supplements.
The health benefits of vitamin B9 in preventing birth defects, cell formation and maintaining homocysteine levels are important. People can easily get their daily requirement through a good diet and take a multivitamin if needed.