What Are The Benefits Of Folic Acid For Men?

Written by Angie Arriesgado
featured image for article on folic acid for men

Folic acid for men… an interesting topic, eh? We’ve all heard how important folic acid is for teenage girls and women, how they should be taking at least 400 mcg daily to prepare for a possible pregnancy and prevent birth defects in their unborn baby. But what about boys and men? Do they need to take folic acid, too? Are there any benefits specifically for guys? Let’s find out in this article!

How can folic acid help men?

Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, the natural form of vitamin B9. By synthetic, we mean it’s man-made. Folic acid is more stable than folate and is the form added to fortified foods like flours and cereals, as well as multivitamins and supplements.

Here are some of the many benefits of folic acid for men:

Folic acid plays a vital role in a man’s well-being

Folic acid is required for many important biological processes. It contributes to (1):

  • DNA and RNA synthesis
  • normal blood formation
  • amino acid synthesis
  • energy production
  • homocysteine metabolism
  • immune function
  • neurotransmitter production

Folic acid for men may help improve healthy pregnancy outcomes

Without a doubt, folic acid is important for all females of child-bearing age. But the same thing actually goes for guys! Healthy sperm DNA is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Sperm DNA damage has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and malformation in babies (2).

There is some evidence that males with low folate levels at the time of conception may increase the risk of an unhealthy pregnancy. Here are some fascinating findings from a study done on mice (3):  

  • Mice fed with a folate-deficient (FD) diet were found to have DNA damage in their sperm and fertility was compromised by a lower pregnancy rate compared to mice fed with a folate-sufficient (FS) diet.
  • When the FD mice did manage to impregnate the female mice, their offspring had major developmental abnormalities, such as facial deformities, and limb and spine defects.
  • On the other hand, the FS mice offspring only had minor abnormalities, such as skin discoloration. A runt was also born in one of the litters.

What does this mean for guys?

If you and your partner are planning to have a child together, then it’s best to get your folate levels up to ensure your sperm remains healthy. Doing so will help reduce the risk of a negative pregnancy outcome.

happy men who take folic acid

Folate helps with homocysteine metabolism

Homocysteine is a chemical that is produced during the metabolism of methionine (in the folate cycle). High levels of this chemical in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis. Fortunately, a diet rich in vitamin B9 can help keep homocysteine levels under control (4).

Folate may help prevent stroke and heart disease

As mentioned above, high levels of homocysteine can increase the risk of cardiovascular or heart disease. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading cause of men in the US – approximately 1 out 4 male deaths, in fact! (5)

A 2019 meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials involving over 47,000 subjects shared incredible results. Patients with cardiovascular disease who received folic acid therapy had a significantly reduced risk of stroke, which is great news for those afflicted by this disease (6).

Folate may help with depression

Folate plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (the happy hormone), dopamine (the motivation and reward hormone), and norepinephrine (fight or flight response hormone) (7).

Bender and colleagues said there is a correlation between lower blood folate levels and depression. And that supplementing with L-methylfolate a.k.a. 5-MTHF (the active form of folate) may help alleviate symptoms of depression (8).

Is it better for men to take folate or folic acid?

Folate and folic acid are used interchangeably nowadays. But they are actually different not just in terms of where you can find them, but also in how the body metabolizes each form.

Both folate and folic acid need to be converted to the active form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF so the body can use it. 5-MTHF is the main form of vitamin B9 found in blood and cord serum (9).

Another important concern about taking folic acid, especially in high doses, is that it can lead to unmetabolized folic acid circulating in the blood. This buildup doesn’t occur when eating folate-rich foods or supplementing with 5-MTHF (10).

Unmetabolized folic acid might be linked to adverse health conditions, such as lowering immunity levels as well as causing certain forms of cancer to accelerate. However, research is still lacking, and more evidence is needed before definitive conclusions can be made. For now, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Basically, what this means is that the best form of folate to take would be 5-MTHF activated folic acid since it needs no further conversions in the body. This is especially helpful for men with the MTHFR genetic variation who are unable to convert either folate or folic acid into 5-MTHF.

Here’s an infographic showing the key differences between folate, folic acid and 5-MTHF activated folic acid:

the different forms of vitamin B9 - folate vs folic acid vs 5-mthf

What are the symptoms of folate deficiency in men?

Folate deficiency is probably easier to spot in women than men. A point in fact is that women who are folate-deficient are at risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube defects (NTD).

Apart from this telltale sign (NTD in a baby), diagnosing folate deficiency isn’t easy. This is because there is an overlap in the symptoms of folate deficiency and a lack of other B vitamins, especially vitamin B12. A blood test will need to be done if you suspect a deficiency and you present any of the symptoms below.

Being deficient in folate and/or vitamin B12 can lead to a type of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia. This condition is characterized by red blood cells that are larger than normal, not fully developed, and therefore not functioning properly. Symptoms of anemia include (11, 12):

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extra pale skin
  • Tingling sensation in hands/feet
  • Irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems

Apart from anemia, folate deficiency can also cause the following (13):

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Gray hair
  • Diarrhea
  • Stunted growth
  • Swollen tongue

What’s the proper dosage for guys?

Here’s the recommended dosage for folic acid for boys and men (12):

Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 months65 mcg DFE
Infants 7-12 months80 mcg DFE
Children 1-3 years150 mcg DFE
Children 4-8 years         200 mcg DFE
Children 9-13 years300 mcg DFE
Teens 14-18 years400 mcg DFE
Adults 19+ years400 mcg DFE

DFE stands for dietary folate equivalent.

1 mcg DFE is equal to:

  • 1 mcg food folate
  • 0.6 mcg folic acid from fortified foods or supplements (when consumed with food)
  • 0.5 mcg folic acid from supplements (when taken on an empty stomach)

When taking folic acid (as opposed to folate and/or 5-MTHF), it’s best to stick to the recommended doses to prevent the occurrence of unmetabolized folic acid in the body.

Conclusion

Folic acid may be well known for its prenatal health benefits, but it’s far from being a female-centric nutrient. Folic acid is beneficial for both men and women. For optimal absorption, use the bioactive form of folate – 5-MTHF – to ensure you get all the benefits of this important vitamin.

References

(1) “EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims Made on Foods (v.3.6).” European Commission Food Safety, ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/register/public/?event=search. Accessed 21 Mar. 2022.

(2) Chohan, K. R. “Comparison of Chromatin Assays for DNA Fragmentation Evaluation in Human Sperm.” Journal of Andrology, vol. 27, no. 1, 2006, pp. 53–59. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.2164/jandrol.05068.

(3) Lambrot, R., et al. “Low Paternal Dietary Folate Alters the Mouse Sperm Epigenome and Is Associated with Negative Pregnancy Outcomes.” Nature Communications, vol. 4, no. 1, 2013. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3889.

(4) Pizzorno, Joseph. “Homocysteine: Friend or Foe?.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 13,4 (2014): 8-14.

(5) “Men and Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/men.htm.

(6) Wang, Yuan et al. “The effect of folic acid in patients with cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Medicine vol. 98,37 (2019): e17095. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017095

(7) Fava, Maurizio, and David Mischoulon. “Folate in depression: efficacy, safety, differences in formulations, and clinical issues.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 70 Suppl 5 (2009): 12-7. doi:10.4088/JCP.8157su1c.03

(8) Bender, Ansley, et al. “The Association of Folate and Depression: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 95, 2017, pp. 9–18. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.07.019.

(9) Scaglione, Francesco, and Giscardo Panzavolta. “Folate, folic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are not the same thing.” Xenobiotica; the fate of foreign compounds in biological systems vol. 44,5 (2014): 480-8. doi:10.3109/00498254.2013.845705

(10) Tam, Carolyn et al. “Circulating unmetabolized folic Acid: relationship to folate status and effect of supplementation.” Obstetrics and gynecology international vol. 2012 (2012): 485179. doi:10.1155/2012/485179

(11) NHS website. “Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency Anaemia.” Nhs.Uk, 18 Nov. 2021, www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia.

(12) Office of Dietary Supplements, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

(13) “Folic Acid in Diet.” MedlinePlus, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002408.htm. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.