Folic acid has become one of the most prominent and essential vitamins in the human diet. It’s responsible for a wide range of processes and reactions occurring in the body. Due to folic acid being able to cross the blood-brain barrier, it’s known to have effects on the brain’s development and function as we grow older.
While we continue to learn the importance of this vitamin, there are plenty of questions that remain -- including whether or not folic acid can improve your memory. Of course, more research is needed surrounding the subject, but some studies show that it does have an effect on memory.
It should be noted that a majority of these studies support folic acid for memory in developing children and aging elders. In most cases, it’s much more effective when taken by pregnant women -- especially before they get pregnant.
To help you better understand how folic acid can help the brain and memory, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about the subject.
What is Folic Acid?
As we’ve already mentioned, folic acid is a vitamin that we consume on a daily basis (hopefully). Beyond that, it gets a little confusing due to the different types or forms of folic acid. Don’t worry; we’ll break it down for you.
A majority of the confusion arises due to the fact that the term “folic acid” is commonly used as an umbrella term. The problem here is folic acid isn’t an umbrella term. The true umbrella term is Vitamin B9, which includes the three major forms of this vitamin -- folic acid, folate, and methylfolate.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of Vitamin B9. In other words, it’s the vitamin created by man and fortified into certain foods and supplements. That’s why you’ll often see pregnant women and elderly people supplement with folic acid.
Unfortunately, folic acid is far from the most effective form of Vitamin B9. Instead, it would be best if you were more focused on folate, which is the natural form of Vitamin B9 that’s already present in food. In other words, we don’t have to add it to the food.
While folate is one of the better ways to consume Vitamin B9 on a daily basis, many people struggle to eat enough foods rich in folate -- like leafy green vegetables, broccoli, peas, and more. This is where folic acid will be suggested for supplementation, but there’s a much better way to do it -- methylfolate.
Where folate is the natural form and folic acid is the synthetic form, methylfolate is the most active form of Vitamin B9. When we consume folic acid or folate, it won’t be ready to be utilized by the body until the body converts it to methylfolate (this is actually a complicated, four-step process). For this reason, supplementing with methylfolate is the most effective way of getting Vitamin B9 in your system for direct and immediate use by the body.
Folic Acid and the Brain
Now that we understand what “folic acid” is and where it comes from, let’s discuss its importance for the brain. We can break this down into five different benefits -- brain development, depression, epilepsy, cognitive decline, and memory.
Let’s take a closer look at these benefits:
- Brain Development - folic acid is extremely important for developing babies and will often be supplemented by the pregnant mother (typically before they’re even pregnant). This is due to folic acid preventing the risks of spina bifida, anencephaly, and other neural tube defects.
- Depression - due to a metabolic deficiency of folic acid, you could experience low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. This can cause depression in some people.
- Epilepsy - with low serum and red blood cell levels of folic acid in the brain, epilepsy patients might experience a decrease in attention, mood, focus, concentration, and sociability.
- Cognitive Decline - as we grow older, our brains experience cognitive decline that eventually leads to a loss of function in the brain. In elderly people, folic acid helps reduce cognitive decline and allows the brain to work better for much longer. Very specifically, studies have proven this using the active form methylfolate.
- Memory - while folic acid hasn’t been proven to enhance your memory, it can help reduce memory loss due to aging (similar to cognitive decline). It can also help protect the brain from dangerous toxins. There is a specific ‘medical food’ which targets Alzheimer’s that contains methylfolate as one of its main active ingredients.
One of the main responsibilities of folic acid is reducing the amount of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that gets broken down by Vitamin B9, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12.
Low levels of these vitamins will result in higher amounts of homocysteine in the blood, which could have a negative effect on your brain and heart.
Signs of a Folic Acid Deficiency
One of the biggest signs of a folic acid deficiency is high levels of homocysteine in the blood, which we briefly mentioned above. This will generally be found by your doctor when they order a blood test. In that case, you would likely be asked to supplement with folic acid.
Outside of that, there are several different signs that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to folic acid. Gray hair, weakness, fatigue, mouth sores, swelling on the tongue, growth issues, shortness of breath, pale skin, and lethargy are some of the physical symptoms you might see.
As we briefly mentioned above, folate deficiency can also be the root of -- or be associated with -- a variety of different diseases and health concerns. Some that you should be aware of are depression, birth defects like spina bifida, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, kidney issues, alcohol abuse, a lack of red blood cells, and much more.
Folic acid deficiency could also be brought on by the MTHFR mutation, which affects the body’s ability to convert folate into its active form.
Without folic acid in the body, you’ll likely experience a wide range of issues that will collectively contribute to a depleted quality of life and difficulty finding happiness when it should be easier in general.
How to Take Folic Acid
It’s no secret that Vitamin B9 is vital to our everyday health -- physically, emotionally, and mentally -- but many people are confused about how to take it, which form to take (which is usually the most important thing to get right), whether they should supplement it, and how much they should be targeting every day.
Before we get into too much detail, it’s essential to understand that Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble vitamin. This means it won’t be stored in the body, with any excess being excreted from the body through urine. For this reason, Vitamin B9 must be taken every day if you want to maintain the levels in your body.
Now for the good stuff, let’s discuss how you should consume Vitamin B9. The most important way to consume it is through the diet by eating more foods rich in folate (unless you are one of over half the population who does not convert folate into methylfolate well due to a genetic enzyme deficiency, MTHFR or DHFR or MTHFD1 or all of those, then you’ll still want to supplement with folate’s most active form, L Methylfolate). In terms of synthetic, man-made folic acid found in vitamins and fortified foods, you’ll want to avoid that whenever you can since your body may not be able to convert it into methylfolate.
What about supplementation?
In the event you’re having difficulty consuming folate from your food (like most of us with modern diets), supplementation is a great idea -- but only if you supplement with the right form. Folic acid has long been regarded as a helpful supplement, especially for pregnant women, but there has been a much more efficient nutrient form making waves in the Vitamin B9 community -- methylfolate.
Methylfolate allows your body to bypass the normal process of converting folate into methylfolate, meaning the methylfolate is already in its active form. This helps the body make use of it right away, and without having to go through the four complex enzymatic conversions (that some can’t do anyway due to genetic mutations that are much more common than you’d think).
Now, let’s discuss how much Vitamin B9 you should be consuming each day. In terms of folate, the recommended dietary amount is 400mcg. Most healthy people will have no issue meeting these demands, but people with health concerns such as the ones listed above might need more.
How Can Methyl-Life™ Assist You?
Methyl-Life™ has become a leading voice in the Vitamin B9 community, more specifically the methylfolate community -- hence the name. We understand how common folic acid deficiency is and a majority of the time it’s due to a condition called MTHFR which is both an enzyme as well as a gene variant that converts folate into methylfolate. Many who have a mutation in this gene will have significant trouble getting the right kind of folate into the body’s cells where it’s most needed to take care of all of the downstream tasks (like mood regulation through serotonin generation, controlling high homocysteine for cardiovascular health, boosting glutathione for detoxification pathways, and repairing myelin sheath for nerve health).
At Methyl-Life™ we have directly experienced the effects of MTHFR mutations and know first-hand the effects that folic acid deficiency can have on an individual. So we have made it our mission to help those people like us regain their quality of life.
If you head over to our online store, you’ll see a wide range of products designed for people suffering from an MTHFR mutation or folic acid deficiency. We’re going to highlight two of those products below -- the MTHFR Beginner’s Bundle and the Focus & Recall capsule:
- Beginner’s Bundle - in this bundle, you receive four products designed to help your body properly utilize Vitamin B9 and reap the benefits of doing so. It contains a 2.5mg methylfolate-only capsule, a hydroxocobalamin (active Vitamin B12) capsule, a non-methylated multivitamin, and a Magnesium capsule.
- Focus & Recall - while this capsule won’t contain methylfolate, it does contain several ingredients linked to an improved brain, memory, and focus. Each capsule will have Citicoline, Phosphatidylserine, and PQQ.
For anyone interested in learning more about what Methyl-Life™ has to offer, you can contact us at any time and one of our professionals will assist you!
Shooshtari, Maryam Khombi, et al. “Memory and Motor Coordination Improvement by Folic Acid Supplementation in Healthy Adult Male Rats.” Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Nov. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3646228/.
Reynolds, E H. “Folic Acid, Ageing, Depression, and Dementia.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), BMJ, 22 June 2002, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1123448/.