While folic acid is widely known as a pregnancy supplement, the vitamin is increasingly involved in hair-growth discussions. It is estimated that 75% of UK women between 16 – 49 suffer from low folate levels.
In this article, we examine whether this deficiency affects hair growth, how much folic acid people need, and the health impacts of too much or too little .
Folic acid and folate are both forms of vitamin B9. While their names are often used interchangeably, ‘folate’ and ‘folic acid’ do have key differences. Folate is an umbrella term that refers to a range of different B9 vitamins, while folic acid is the synthetic form of B9 used in supplements and the artificial enrichment of food .
Vitamin B9 plays a vital role in key bodily processes such as the healthy production of cells, cell division and DNA synthesis. The body cannot produce folate alone, but the vitamin is naturally present in many foods and can also be imbibed as folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.
As folic acid is crucial in the healthy development of a foetus, pregnant women are recommended to take supplements up until week 12. These supplements can help to prevent the development of major birth defects in the foetus’ brain and spine, which are caused by neural tube defects.
Adult men and women should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Natural folate is present in leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, nuts, peas, seafood, and animal products. It is most concentrated in liver, spinach, asparagus, and brussels sprouts .
In 1996, the USA began to fortify many common grain products (such as cereal, flour, bread, pasta, crackers, etc.) with folic acid, estimated to increase people’s natural consumption by 100-200 micrograms a day . However, the UK has only recently begun its fortification efforts and introduced mandatory fortification of non-wholemeal flour in 2021 .
Many people still will not consume enough folate naturally through their diet and so should consider supplements. Women of reproductive age especially are encouraged to ensure their folate is high as many pregnancies are unplanned, and birth defects often occur before pregnancy is known .
Unfortunately, there is not enough research to establish whether there is any link between folic acid and hair growth. Like any deficiency in vital vitamins, a lack of folic acid may indirectly negatively impact your hair growth and quality due to the essential role that B9 plays in various bodily processes.
Supplements for hair growth have become increasingly popular over the past few years, and folic acid is no exception. A balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for health hair growth – however, unless you have a severe deficiency, there is no evidence that excessive supplementation has any positive impact on your health or hair growth. In some cases, supplements can even be harmful .
It’s normal to lose between 50 to 100 hairs a day, and you most commonly will notice this in the shower or on your pillow. If you notice increased shedding beyond this, there’s usually an underlying cause, such as stress, medication, health issues, or hair loss conditions. Speak to a healthcare professional or trichologist if you are worried, but it is very unlikely that your hair loss is caused by a folic acid deficiency alone.
Folic acid may have an impact upon autoimmune-related hair loss, however. An Iranian study noted that people suffering from alopecia areata (a common balding condition believed to be autoimmune in nature) had lower folate levels than the control group, who did not suffer from the condition . However, conversely, a study in Turkey found no difference in folate levels across those with and without alopecia areata. More research is needed to further establish what link there is, if any.
Not enough folic acid can lead to a range of different symptoms as your body is placed under greater strain. However, extreme deficiency can lead to various forms of anaemia such as folate-deficiency anaemia or megaloblastic anaemia, where the body produces abnormal red blood cells. While these conditions are rare, some impacts can be irreversible and so you should seek professional advice if you notice several symptoms such as:
Gray hair can also be linked to vitamin deficiencies, including folic acid, although it has a plethora of other causes such as natural ageing.
Consuming the recommended amount of folic acid is highly unlikely to cause side effects. Taking more than 1mg (1000 micrograms) of folic acid a day may have a negative impact on your health, such as:
If your symptoms are serious, or you notice negative changes in your body after taking folic acid, seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Folic acid is also sometimes conflated with an increased risk of cancer. As the body struggles to convert the synthetic form into active B9, unmetabolized folic acid can build up in the bloodstream which some studies have linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer .
However, this has not been proved definitively – several other studies have produced results that refute this link. Rather, folate supplementation. generally decreases the risk of disease.
Ultimately, no evidence suggests that excessive folic acid supplementation will help your hair loss or growth. However, vitamin B9 is vital to the healthy function of many bodily systems, so moderate supplementation is highly useful and recommended by many leading healthcare authorities, especially for women.
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