Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is a synthetic form of folate that the body cannot synthesize. Folic acid is used to treat anemia and other conditions.
To meet your daily requirements for folate, you should obtain it from a diet rich in leafy greens and folic-rich foods such as spinach, beef liver, chickpeas, kale, brussels sprouts, eggs, bread, rice, broccoli, and avocado . It is important to note that the terms folic acid and folate are not synonymous.
Folic acid is structurally distinct from folate and has biological effects that are slightly different from folate.
- Producing and maturing red blood cells
- Assisting healthy cell growth and cell division
- Making and repairing DNA
While folic acid’s benefits for women during early pregnancy are well known, you may be wondering if dietary supplements containing folic acid have any benefits for men.
This article discusses the health benefits of folic acid for men and the dosage, side effects, and precautions for use.
Benefits of Folic Acid For Men
May Increase Fertility
Because the use of folic acid and zinc work so well together, they are frequently sold as male fertility supplements.
A large number of studies have been carried out on these supplements. Yet, they have observed a wide range of results, particularly among otherwise healthy men. A 2002 study showed that taking 5 mg of folic acid and 66 mg of zinc every day for six months increased the sperm count in the subfertile group by 74% compared to the control group . Another review similarly discovered that folic acid and zinc supplementation increased sperm concentration and quality .
Furthermore, according to the findings of a six-month study of 64 infertile men, people taking a daily supplement that contained vitamin E, selenium, and adequate amounts of folic acid had significantly higher sperm counts and motile sperm than people who took a placebo supplement .
On the other hand, other research has discovered that folic acid and zinc do not affect male fertility or pregnancy.
For example, taking daily supplements containing 5 mg folic acid and 30 mg zinc did not improve sperm quality or aid in conception, according to an eight-month study of 2,370 men seeking infertility help .
Because of these contradictory findings, more research is warranted to confirm this benefit.
Male pattern baldness and gray hair are common in men, particularly as they grow older.
A wide variety of supplements and vitamins, including folic acid, are available to aid in hair regrowth and the prevention of graying hair.
Folic acid contributes to the health of your hair in part because it promotes healthy cell growth, which includes the growth of the cells found in your hair.
For example, one study found decreased folate, vitamin B12, and biotin (B7) levels and 52 men and women with prematurely gray hair .
Nonetheless, research on the relationship between a folic acid deficiency and hair health and growth is still in its early stages, and more research is needed to understand this relationship better.
May Benefit Cardiac Health
The leading cause of death for men in the United States is heart disease, which accounts for roughly one out of every four deaths in the world .
Homocysteine, an amino acid produced during protein digestion, is linked to heart disease and stroke .
Folate is necessary for the metabolism of homocysteine and for the maintenance of normal homocysteine levels in the bloodstream. Low folate may result in an increase in homocysteine levels in the blood, resulting in a condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia, and this condition can lead to damage of the artery and blood clots.
Additionally, it has been demonstrated that taking folic acid supplements can help to lower other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, and increase blood flow, which is beneficial to heart health [10,12].
May Assist With Depression
Mental health disorders are common in men in the United States, and approximately 16 percent of men have some form of mental health disorder .
For example, according to a comprehensive review of 43 studies involving more than 35,000 people, those who suffer from depression typically have lower folate levels and consume less folate through their diet than those who do not .
Taking folic acid supplements in addition to antidepressant medication was found to significantly improve symptoms of depression when compared to taking antidepressant medication alone, according to another review of six studies and 966 participants .
Nevertheless, prior to adding folic acid supplementation to your normal medication regimen, seek professional advice from your healthcare providers.
Side Effects and Precautions
Taking excessive amounts of folic acid may have negative side effects when compared to naturally occurring folate in food and biologically active supplemental forms of folate such as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, which are available in supplement form.
Excess Folic Acid Can Mask B12 Deficiency
Another hazard associated with excessive folic acid consumption is that it may conceal vitamin B12 deficiency .
B12 deficiency causes neurological damage, which cannot be reversed by supplementing with folic acid. Consequently, B12 deficiency may go unnoticed until irreversible neurological symptoms manifest, at which point it is too late. Hence, before commencing folic acid supplementation, your doctor may need to run some blood tests.
Other Folic Acid Risks
In addition to the risks previously mentioned, there are several additional risks associated with taking large doses of folic acid, including the following:
- Immune function: According to a large number of studies, high-dose folic acid supplements can impair immune function by decreasing the activity of protective immune cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells. Folic acid that has not been metabolized may be associated with a reduction in the natural killer cell activity [17,18].
- Adult mental decline: According to the research, high doses of folic acid have been shown to hasten the mental decline of older adults who have low vitamin B12 levels [19,20].
- Cancer risk: When comparing people who took folic acid supplements to those who did not, a meta-analysis of ten studies discovered a statistically significant increase in the incidence of prostate cancer in those who did not .
In short, it’s important to weigh the risk versus benefits of folic acid supplementation. After all, most people in the United States have adequate folate levels, and that supplementation may not be required. Furthermore, most men and women are able to meet their daily folic acid intake requirements from their diet alone! This appears to apply to children as well as the majority of children and adolescents in the United States who also consume more than the recommended daily folate intake from dietary sources .
Dosage and Safety
Increasing folate through natural sources, such as foods, is generally considered to be risk-free. On the other hand, it has been shown that excessive folic acid supplementation can result in undesirable consequences.
In addition to masking a B12 deficiency, excessive folic acid can also impair immune function and increase the risk of prostate cancer. Toxicity, on the other hand, is extremely rare. This is because folate is a water-soluble vitamin. Hence, it is easily excreted by the body when in excess [23,24].
One thousand micrograms of this vitamin per day are considered the tolerable upper limit (UL). Only synthetic forms of folate, such as folic acid, have a UL, even though there have been no reports of adverse effects associated with a high intake of folate-rich foods in general .
Furthermore, because the vast majority of people in the United States meet their daily folate requirements, supplementation is not always necessary in these circumstances.
Having said that, taking a nutritional supplement may be a convenient way for some people to meet their daily nutritional requirements. People at risk of deficiency, such as older adults or those on a special diet, are particularly vulnerable to this.
In addition to being available as an isolated nutrient, folic acid supplements are also available as a component of a multivitamin or B-complex vitamin and in combination with other specific vitamins.
In order to minimize the risk of adverse effects, don’t go over the recommended daily intake of 1,000 mcg unless your healthcare provider tells you to, such as if you have a folate deficiency that needs to be treated.
Moreover, some nutritional supplements and medications such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and antiepileptic drugs may interact with folic acid supplements.
Hence, if you are taking any of these medications, you should seek medical advice from your doctor before taking any folic acid, micronutrient, or vitamin supplement.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.