Vitamin B9 or folic acid: all about vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, or folic acid, is a key vitamin during pregnancy. A deficiency can lead to serious malformations of the fetus and the risk of premature delivery. Outside of this particular period, folates have an equally essential role in the body, particularly in terms of cell maturation and renewal.

Characteristics of vitamin B9:

  • Water-soluble vitamins not synthesized by the body
  • An essential role in cell renewal and red blood cell synthesis
  • Found mostly in the liver and leafy green vegetables
  • Folate needs to be doubled during pregnancy
  • Deficiency responsible for fetal malformations, Spina Bifida, and megaloblastic anemia

Why consume foods rich in folic acid?

Definition, benefits, and roles of folic acid

Pregnancy and folate

Because of the link between neural tube defects and folate intake, it is recommended that women planning pregnancy consume 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid, from fortified foods or supplements, in addition to dietary folate intake. 

This supplementation should ideally begin 3 months before conception and continue through the first trimester of pregnancy.

Cell renewal

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) plays an important role in protein metabolism and DNA production. Folic acid is involved in the production of rapidly renewing cells such as white and red blood cells, skin cells, etc.

Vitamin B9, vitamin B12, and cardiovascular protection

These two vitamins could act in synergy to reduce homocysteine ​​levels. We now know that an excess of homocysteine ​​in the blood is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A good intake of vitamins B9 and B12 could then participate in cardiovascular prevention.

hair beauty

Folic acid promotes the regeneration of skin appendages (nails and hair) and stimulates the hair follicle. A good supply of vitamin B9 helps strengthen hair and prevent hair loss.

In which foods is vitamin B9 found?

Vitamin B9 is mainly found in organ meats, legumes, and some green vegetables. Here is a list of the 20 foods highest in folic acid:

food  Portions      (µg)  
Poultry offal, grilled or braised100 g345-770 µg
Lamb or veal liver, sautéed100 g331-400 µg
Cooked legumes100 g229-368 µg
Pork or beef liver, braised or sautéed100 g163-260 µg
Boiled spinach125ml (1/2 cup)139 µg
Boiled asparagus125ml (1/2 cup)134 µg
Enriched pasta, cooked125ml (1/2 cup)120-125 µg
Soy beans, boiled or sautéed125ml (1/2 cup)83-106 µg
Boiled broccoli125ml (1/2 cup)89 µg
Roasted sunflower seeds60ml (1/4 cup)81 µg
Romaine lettuce250ml (1 cup)80 µg
Sunflower seed butter30 ml (2 tbsp)77 µg
Cooked beets125ml (1/2 cup)72 µg
Sprouted soybeans125ml (1/2 cup)64 µg
Raw spinach250ml (1 cup)61 µg
orange125ml (1/2 cup)58 µg
Brussels sprouts cooked4 choux (80 g)50 µg
Okras (okras), boiled125ml (1/2 cup)39 µg
Nuts, hazelnuts, filberts, dehydrated, unblanched60ml (1/4 cup)39 µg
Linseed60ml (1/4 cup)37 µg

How to properly use vitamin B9 (folic acid)?

Use of folic acid

Daily Vitamin B9 Requirements

Folate requirements change throughout life. In pregnant women, in particular, it is essential to cover the needs which are then increased to avoid poor closure of the neural tube (Spina Bifida) and malformations of the fetus.

Recommended Dietary Intake (ANC)
Babies 0-6 months   65 µg*
Babies 7-12 months80 µg*
Babies 1-3 years old150 µg
Children 4-8 years old200 µg
Boys 9-13 years old300 µg
Girls 9-13 years old300 µg
Boys 14-18 years old400 µg
Girls 14-18 years old400 µg
Men 19-50 years old400 µg
Women 19-50 years old400 µg
Men 50 and over400 µg
Women 50 and over400 µg
Pregnant women800 µg
Nursing women500 µg

*Sufficient intakes

Vitamin B9 food supplements

Vitamin B9 supplementation can be considered to support the immune system, reduce cardiovascular risk or prevent neurological disorders. 

In pregnant women, folic acid supplementation must be systematic to avoid malformations of the fetus and the risk of premature delivery. It is therefore recommended to take 800 micrograms of folic acid per day, including a diet rich in folate. 

In other cases, the dosage and duration of supplementation may vary. However, it is strongly recommended never to exceed 1 mg of folic acid per day and to seek the advice of a doctor.

Adverse effects of vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 deficiencies

Vitamin B9 deficiency generally results in macrocytic anemia, nausea, and neurological disorders that can go as far as dementia or even tissue inflammation. 

In pregnant women, a vitamin B9 deficiency can have dramatic consequences: Spina Bifida, growth retardation, premature delivery, etc. This is why supplementation should be considered even before conception.

Excess intake of folic acid

At very high doses folic acid can become neurotoxic and lead to more or less serious disorders of the nervous system. It is recommended never to exceed 1 mg per day without prior medical advice.

Interactions (with other nutrients)

Vitamin B9 seems to act in synergy with vitamin B12, a good intake of these two elements is essential. Certain drug treatments can, on the other hand, interact with folic acid and prevent its assimilation. 

Thus, oral contraceptives or methotrexate have a negative effect on blood folate levels. In people on treatment, it may then be wise to consider supplementation.

Chemical properties

The molecular formula of vitamin B9 is C19H19N7O6, its molar mass is 441.3975 g/mol. It is a water-soluble vitamin with many roles in the body. 

Folic acid is, in fact, a metabolic precursor of THF, involved in DNA synthesis. In terms of protein metabolism, vitamin B9 allows the synthesis of key amino acids (serine, methionine, etc.).

While plants can synthesize folic acid, animals and humans must necessarily find it in their daily diet to avoid the risk of deficiencies.


Nutrient history

It was in 1930 that L. Wills discovered the existence of severe anemia common to many pregnant women from underprivileged backgrounds in certain regions of India. The link between diet and this type of megaloblastic anemia is thus established. This form of anemia will be treated by adding yeast to the diet.

Later, researchers will succeed in isolating vitamin B9 from certain foods (liver, vegetables, etc.). Therefore, the study of this nutrient will reveal its many roles in cell maturation and renewal.

It was only in 1980 that scientists were able to establish a precise link between vitamin B9 deficiency and Spina Bifida. These discoveries quickly gave rise to the first recommendations regarding vitamin B9 supplementation during pregnancy.

Image Credit: Photo by Paras Kapoor on Unsplash

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