It’s common to hear folic acid supplements recommended for women, but can boosting this vitamin benefit men too?
Did you know folic acid has a vital role in the creation of red blood cells? And if you don’t have enough folic acid, your body can respond by making abnormally large red blood cells that don’t work properly.1 It can come as a surprise that folic acid contributes to so many aspects of wellness in addition to foetal development during early pregnancy.
Here we explain what folic acid does and why it’s not only pregnant women who need more of it.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a manmade form of a B vitamin called folate. It’s also known as vitamin B9. In fact, you’ve probably seen the terms folate and folic acid used interchangeably. But there’s an important difference.
- Folic acid is a synthetic type of vitamin B9. It’s used in vitamin supplements and added to certain fortified foods (for example, cereals.) Our bodies can use this form more efficiently than folates.2
- Folate is a natural type of vitamin B9. It’s found in green, leafy vegetables, some meats, citrus fruits, legumes, brown rice and wholemeal bread.
Does your body need folic acid?
The answer is a resounding yes. And it’s for an important reason. Folic acid helps your body form healthy red blood cells. Yes, those very important vessels that carry oxygen around your body. Unfortunately, if you don’t have enough red blood cells, or they are badly formed, your organs and tissues receive less oxygen.
And if this happens, you may find out you’re suffering with a folic acid deficiency, otherwise known as folate deficiency anaemia. And how does that affect males? A folic acid deficiency in men, as in women, can trigger a range of anaemia-type symptoms, including extreme tiredness, lethargy and headaches.
And on top of its cell producing power, folic acid also contributes to the formation and repair of DNA. Yes, this is a vitamin that men shouldn’t underestimate.
Folic acid benefits for men
- Preventing low folic acid in men
- Supporting fertility
- Supporting heart health
But what does folic acid do for men exactly?
Support those with folic acid deficiency
If you dodge green vegetables, overcook your food and generally don’t follow a healthy diet, you may find a folic acid deficiency is what’s causing you to feel more tired and lethargic (among other things.) Folic acids supplements can help replenish your levels of this vital vitamin.3
Supports mail fertility
There’s more research needed here. But some studies suggest there could be a link between the amount of folic acid in a man’s diet and the genetic quality of his sperm.4
Supports heart and cardiovascular health
Folic acid helps support homocysteine metabolism in your blood – an amino acid that may damage the inner walls of your arteries. Studies suggest a good dose of folic acid can keep blood vessels open and clear of blockages , which could benefit males at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.5
May support those with depression
People struggling with mood disorders often also have low folate levels, according to studies. From this discovery, emerged the suggestion that increasing folic acid for men could aid with managing conditions such as depression.6
Are you getting enough folic acid?
Your body can’t store folic acid. As a result, you need to top up your folic acid intake frequently.
The NHS recommends adults (male and female) need 200 micrograms of folate every day.7 In reality, not everyone gets the amount they need from their meals. So, although a healthy, balanced diet is a good start, there are some things that mean getting your recommended folic acid from food isn’t always straightforward. For example, even if you meticulously plan meals so you get a good dose of folates in your daily diet, excessive alcohol consumption, some gastrointestinal conditions and certain medications can interfere with the body’s absorption of this B vitamin.
Recognising low folic acid in men
It can be hard to recognise if you need to boost your intake of this vitamin. Some of the common symptoms of folic acid deficiency in men include:
- An absence of energy
- Severe tiredness
- Breathlessness and feeling faint
- Pale skin
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Change in sense of taste
- Pins and needles
- Muscle weakness
If you suspect you have a folate deficiency, consult your doctor who can advise on the correct folic acid dosage for your personal circumstances.
Sources of folates and folic acid
There are two main ways that you can experience the benefits of bolstering your levels of vitamin B9.
- Eat more folate rich foods. Try adding more leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, legumes, wheat bran and cereals fortified with folic acid to your daily diet.
- Take folic acid supplements. You can increase your folic acid levels by taking folic acid tablets daily to replenish your vitamin B9 levels. As a general benchmark, it usually takes around four months to restore a deficiency.8
The best source of folic acid for you will depend on what benefits you’re looking for and the cause of any deficiency.
Summary: Should men take folic acid?
Despite its reputation, folic acid isn’t a women’s only vitamin. Although an important ingredient in prenatal supplements, the folic acid benefits for men are also convincing. Maintaining a healthy level of this B vitamin certainly offers a whole range of wellness benefits for men and women.
Last updated: 4 August 2020