When we hear anything related to folate or folic acid, many of us automatically think about pregnancy or pregnant women and with good reason. Folic acid is very important before and during pregnancy (especially during early pregnancy as it helps with the formation of the neural tube – the developing brain and spine. Without enough folate in the diet or a folic acid supplement, pregnant women are more likely to give birth to babies with major defects to their brains or spines. However, have you ever wondered about the health benefits of folic acid for men? Is folic acid good for men’s health? Do they even need it or is it something exclusively needed by women? In this article, we shall discuss folic acid benefits for men, how much of this nutrient an adult man should consume in his diet, natural food sources of folate, supplemental folic acid side effects for men – if any – and much more.
What Is Folic Acid?
Before delving into the discussion of folic acids for men, what exactly is folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic version of vitamin B9 aka folate. It should be noted that while folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably, scientifically, they are not the same. According to the CDC (12),
- Folate is the general term used to describe all the different forms of vitamin B9 including folic acid. Folate is also the natural form of B9, occurs naturally in foods, and is water soluble.
- Folic acid on the other hand is the synthetic form – aka man made – of vitamin B9. Folic acid is often found in the form of supplements or added to fortified foods like rice, breakfast cereals, pastas, etc.
Of all other forms of folate, folic acid is used the most in food fortification as it is very heat stable and can be absorbed by the body more easily than all others.
How Much Folic Acid Should A Man Take?
While folate and folic acid may be mostly associated with pregnant women, all people, in fact, could benefit greatly from consuming more of this vitamin. Our bodies utilize vitamin B9 for multiple uses ranging from creating new red blood cells, synthesizing DNA, proper brain and neurological function, as well as fat and protein metabolism (6).
While folate deficiency is relatively rare, it can still happen if you are not careful. A deficiency of this nutrient usually take anywhere between 8 to 16 weeks to become evident and can lead to issues such as (9)
- Megaloblastic anemia
- Weakness and fatigue
- As sore and red tongue – some people also get sores/ulcers on the mouth and tongue
- Mood swings and irritability
- Heart palpitations
- Concentration issues
- Depression (7)
- Pigment changes in nails, hair and skin
So how much folic acid should a man take a day to prevent any issues or deficiency? An adult man (19 years and up) requires about 400 mg per day dietary folate equivalents (DFE) – this number is the same for teenage boys as well (14 to 18 years) (6). However, if you regularly drink alcohol, you should aim for at least 600 mcg DFE of folate daily as alcohol can impair the absorption of this nutrient.
What Foods Naturally Contain Folate?
Because our bodies do not make this nutrient themselves – and can only store just about 15 to 30 g of it at a time, consuming foods high in folate is the best way to ensure that you are not risking a deficiency, and giving your body enough of this nutrient to continue functioning normally.
Some natural foods that contain high levels of folate include (6):
- Vegetables – especially dark leafy greens like spinach (preferably boiled), Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, arugula, and asparagus.
- Citrus fruits and juices.
- Legumes like peas,beans as well as lentils.
- Other fruits like bananas, avocados, and papaya.
- Meats from beef liver, fish, crab and chicken.
- Cantaloupes, etc.
You can also find folic acid fortified foodstuffs at the grocery store. Foods that are more likely to be fortified with folic acid include bread, breakfast cereals, different flours, cornmeal, pasta, as well as rice. Just make sure to read the label to find out if your product has had this nutrient added to it or not.
What Are The Benefits Of Folic Acid For Men?
Here are some reasons why you as a man – or any man in your life – should be consuming more high folate or folic acid fortified foods.
May Improve Mental Health
Over the years, multiple studies have shown that more women than men are more likely to suffer from depression. While this may be the case, it doesn’t mean that men should neglect taking care of their mental health as well (16, 14). Not only should they be willing to tackle therapy, but they should also be willing to do activities and consume foods/nutrients that reduce the likelihood of mental health issues, like depression.
So, is folic acid good for mental health? Yes it is. Vitamin B9, is one such nutrient as evidenced as good for mental health by scientific studies:
- In a review published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers looked at 43 studies with over 35,000 participants to find if there was a link between folate and depression. In their findings, the researchers stated that people with depression not only consumed less high folate foods via their diets, but they also had lower folate levels in their bodies. People without depression had more levels of this nutrient in their bodies and also ate more folate rich foods (17).
- Another analysis published a year later in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers found that when people who suffer from depression take their antidepressants alongside a folate supplement, their symptoms reduced faster than those who simply only took their antidepressant medications alone (1).
With findings like these, we would say that any man who wants to prioritize his mental health should ensure to add more folate rich foods in his diet. If you have depression, are already on antidepressants and wonder if you should take more folate and folic acids, be sure to speak to your doctor for more advice.
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May Improve Heart Health
Not only is heart disease the leading cause of all deaths worldwide, but men are also more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases than women.
According to a study published in 2010 in the Netherlands Heart Journal, researchers stated that coronary heart disease in men tends to develop 7 to 10 years earlier in men than women (11). Another long term study (1980 to 2010) published in the BMJ Global Health journal in 2017 revealed that while mortality cases caused cardiovascular disease and stroke have reduced over the decades, these mortality cases remain higher in men than in women (15).
One of the lesser known causes of heart disease is homocysteine – an amino acid produced in the body through the process of protein digestion. In normal levels, it works with methionine to synthesize proteins and with cysteine to reduce inflammation and boost liver health.
However, in excess amounts, this amino acid damages the lining of your arteries causing blood clots or blood vessel blockages which can significantly raise your risk of a heart attack (13).
Luckily, research has shown that supplementing your diet with folate or folic acid can metabolize this amino acid, keeping its levels low and thus reducing your risk of heart disease (4). Vitamins B6 and B12 are also necessary for homocysteine metabolism, so make sure you are getting enough of those too.
In a review published in 2016, researchers looking at 30 randomized controlled trials involving 82,334 participants found that supplementing with folic acid reduced the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases by 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively (10).
May Improve Fertility
While women need to take folate to ensure good health of their babies, men may need this nutrient to ensure that a baby is actually conceived. A study published in 2002 in the Fertility and Sterility journal done on 108 fertile and 103 subfertile men found that taking a combination of 5 mg of folic acid and 66 mg of zinc a day for 6 months, helped increase the sperm count of the subfertile men by 74 percent (3).
More studies have had similar positive results over the years:
- One review published in 2017 found that sub-fertile men who supplemented their diets with both folate and zinc had a significantly higher sperm concentration, as well as much higher quality sperm than those who didn’t supplement (18).
- Two years later in 2019, another published six-month study done on 64 infertile men found that those who supplement their diets with vitamin E, selenium, and folic acid not only had a higher sperm count by the end of the study, but the sperm also had more mobility than that of those who never supplement with these nutrients (19).
While more research is still needed, to ensure that the combination of folate and zinc will work to improve fertility in men, existing research shows some promise, which should not be easily ignored.
Are There Any Benefits Of Folic Acid For Blood Pressure In Men?
Yes, there are.
As mentioned above, this nutrient helps metabolize homocysteine, which if left alone can lead to clogged arteries which leads to high blood pressure and eventually stroke.
What Are Some Folic Acid Benefits For Men And Women?
As previously mentioned, the body uses folate to:
- Make new red blood cells which not only carry oxygen throughout the blood but also reduces your risk of anemia.
- Synthesis and repair DNA – This is very important for the survival of a species and failure to do this leads to genomic instability, apoptosis, or senescence, which can greatly affect the organism’s development and aging process (2).
- Ensure the birth of healthy babies.
What Are Some Folic Acid Benefits For Immune System Men?
Improved heart health, new red blood cells, DNA repair and synthesis, improved mental health, and all other benefits mentioned above.
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Do Folate Side Effects Exist?
While, for the most part folate doesn’t have any side effects even in excessive amounts – its maximum Upper Intake Level for adults is set at 1,000 mcg a day – some people have experienced side effects.
- One study published in 2018 found that too much unmetabolized folic acid in the blood may lead to prostate cancer (8).
- Another study review published in 2016 found that the excessive intake of folic acid could adversely affect cognitive impairment and other symptoms in the elderly who have vitamin B12 deficiency (5).
The Bottom Line
The folic acid benefits for men clearly show that this nutrient is not just important for pregnant women and fetuses. For better mental health as well as general health, men should ensure that they are consuming high folate foods daily. If you’d like to add a folic acid supplement, please speak to your doctor as there could be adverse effects for some with high doses.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Caveat emptor: Folate in unipolar depressive illness, a systematic review and meta-analysis (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- DNA-damage repair; the good, the bad, and the ugly (2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of folic acid and zinc sulfate on male factor subfertility: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (2002, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Efficacy of folic acid supplementation on endothelial function and plasma homocysteine concentration in coronary artery disease: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Excessive folic acid intake and relation to adverse health outcome (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Folate (2022, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Folate and depression—a neglected problem (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Folate and Its Impact on Cancer Risk (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Folic Acid Deficiency (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Folic Acid Supplementation and the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Gender differences in coronary heart disease (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- General Information About NTDs, Folic Acid, and Folate (2022, cdc.gov)
- Homocysteine: Friend or Foe? (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Men and women: statistics (n.d., mentalhealth.org.uk)
- Sex differences in coronary heart disease and stroke mortality: a global assessment of the effect of ageing between 1980 and 2010 (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Study Finds Sex Differences in Mental Illness (2011, apa.org)
- The association of folate and depression: A meta-analysis (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Effect of Folate and Folate Plus Zinc Supplementation on Endocrine Parameters and Sperm Characteristics in Sub-Fertile Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of Vitamin E – Selenium – Folic Acid Supplementation in Improving Sperm Parameters After Varicocelectomy: A Randomized Clinical Trial (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)