Folate is essential for many processes in the body including brain development and function, DNA synthesis and more. Its role in many reactions in the body suggests folate is important for helping prevent certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.  

Low levels of folate (vitamin B9) in the blood may be linked to a heightened risk of dementia and death from any cause in older people, suggests research published online in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health.  They drew on the medical records of 27,188 people served by one national healthcare provider. All the participants were aged between 60 and 75 and had had no pre-existing dementia. Among those who were folate deficient were 68% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia and nearly 3 times as likely to die from any cause.  

It is possible that folate deficiency might affect homocysteine levels and therefore the vascular risk of dementia, and/or compromise DNA repair of neurons, making them vulnerable to oxidative damage, which in turn might speed up brain cell ageing and damage, they explain.  

Blood levels should be routinely monitored, and deficiencies corrected. Causes of deficiency can be: 

  • Insufficient intake 
  • Certain prescription medications (metformin, colestipol, fenofibrate, levodopa and others) 
  • Smoking 
  • High coffee consumption 
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • Obesity 
  • Advanced age. Up to 1 in 5 older adults estimated to be folate deficient. 

Folate and folic acid are both forms of vitamin B9. Folate naturally occurs in foods like asparagus, broccoli, banana, avocado, wheat germ, kidney beans, and leafy vegetables such as spinach. Folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9 (folate) is the type that is commonly found in fortified foods. L-methylfolate is the bioactive form. 

If deficient of folate, the best form of vitamin B9 (folate) to take as a supplement is L-methylfolate (also known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF).  It is estimated that about 10% of the global population lack the gene MTHFR which changes folate to a usable form. Therefore 5-MTHF would be the best choice.   

Many who are folate deficient also need other B-vitamins. A good quality B-complex would be a good choice, taken one to two times per day.  Supplementation with B-vitamins have been shown in numerous studies to help lower homocysteine levels. Elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with many diseases, including: 

  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Congestive heart failure 
  • Stroke 
  • Migraines 
  • Age-related macular degeneration 
  • Hearing loss 
  • Brain atrophy 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Dementia 

When adding any supplement, ALWAYS get one that is guaranteed good quality. Read the labels for ‘USDA certified’ or testing by third party to guarantee quality.  Expect to pay a little more for quality.   

Dr. Julie Wood is a Nurse Practitioner and has been serving the Middle Tennessee area for more than 30 years, specializing in adults with obesity, prediabetes and diabetes. Office is located at 401 First Avenue, Mt. Pleasant, TN and statewide with telehealth. Dr. Wood can be reached at 931-325-5560,,   

Articles are meant to be informative and should never replace the advice of your health care provider.