How Folate Works

Benefits of Folate

Many of folate's healthful properties help women specifically. It's particularly important for pregnant women to get enough folate to keep the fetus healthy. It also seems to prevent cancer of the cervix. But folate has benefits for both genders.

Since the 1960s, folate has been linked to neural tube defects. But it wasn't until 1992 that the U.S. Public Health Service acknowledged the link and recommended that women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of the vitamin per day.

This simple measure has significantly reduced the number of babies born with neural tube defects. Folate early in pregnancy also reduces the risk of other health problems in the fetus, such as brain tumors, cardiovascular problems, poor nerve development, and limb deformities.

Folate use by pregnant women can help prevent brain tumors and other health hazards in the fetus.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Folate use by pregnant women can help prevent brain tumors,
neural tube defects, and other health hazards in the fetus.

As discussed in the article on vitamin B6, high homocysteine levels are a risk for heart disease and stroke. Folate helps clear the body of excess homocysteine, but it does the job even better when teamed up with vitamins B6 and B12. High homocysteine levels may also be linked to osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Homocysteine can interfere with collagen production, which makes up the matrix, or base, of bone tissue.

Folate protects cell DNA in a woman's cervix. In more than one study, women who had abnormal cells in their cervix or who had cancer of the cervix, had lower levels of folate than women with a healthy cervix.

Even a slight deficiency of this vitamin might make the cells of the cervix more susceptible to viral attack, which seems to be a predecessor of cancer in some women. If abnormal cells are identified early, huge doses of folate, 10 mg per day, are often able to stop the progression to cancer in many women.

Like many of the other B vitamins, folate affects mental function. It helps serotonin production, elevating mood and acting as a mild antidepressant. However, it takes extremely large doses -- up to 50 mg -- to get results. Other nutrients help alleviate depression at much lower levels. It might be a better idea to just get plenty of all the B vitamins and look to other substances for help in alleviating depression.

On the next page you'll learn how much folate you need and what happens if you don't get enough.

Folate is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Vitamin B12, which helps folate make cells, works differently than any other vitamin. Learn the details at How Vitamin B12 Works.
  • When teamed with other B vitamins, B2 helps in metabolism. Find out what it does at How Vitamin B2 Works.
  • Everyone knows vitamin C fights the common cold. Learn how it does the trick at How Vitamin C Works.
  • Relax; you'll find the stress-busting vitamin B5 in every food you eat. Learn about it at How Vitamin B5 Works.
  • Vitamin B6 is effective against more than 100 ailments. How Vitamin B6 Works will explain the details and tell you how to get enough in your diet.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.