Folic acid is a type of folate (a B vitamin) that all of us need to remain healthy. The primary function of folic acid is to help the body make healthy new cells. Folic acid is particularly important for women of childbearing age and mothers-to-be as it also aids the baby’s growth and development. There are many things we still need to learn about folic acid, and one of them is its potential to lower blood pressure.
Can folic acid really lower blood pressure?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common occurrence nowadays. Figures show that 75 million American adults or 32% of the population has hypertension. In other words, one in three adults has problems with elevated blood pressure. Hypertension can lead to further cardiovascular complications and events such as heart attack and stroke.
Studies confirm that hypertensive disorders complicate about 10% to 15% pregnancies in the United States. In 0.5% to 3% of hypertensive pregnant women, doctors diagnose chronic hypertension.
High blood pressure in pregnancy can prevent the placenta from getting enough blood, meaning the baby also gets less food and oxygen. Low birth weight is a common consequence of this problem. Of course, hypertension in pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia, which is particularly dangerous for both the mother and her baby.
Folic acid can, indeed, help lower blood pressure during pregnancy. In one study, women who took folate were able to reduce their blood pressure significantly. Subjects who took over 1000mcg of folic acid a day experienced a blood pressure reduction of 46%.
Folic acid taken in higher dosages can also help reduce blood pressure in men and non-pregnant women. Scientists theorize that folic acid lowers blood pressure by allowing blood vessels to relax and improve blood flow.
How much is too much?
We have a weird tendency to assume that consuming excessive amounts of some nutrients will lead to better results, but only complications could occur. When it comes to folic acid; men and women older than 14 years should strive to take 400mcg a day. Pregnant women need 600mcg folic acid a day while breastfeeding mothers need 500mcg a day. You should not take more than 1000mcg folic acid a day unless your healthcare provider approves.
What are the risks?
Folic acid is considered safe, but some risks are still present. Side effects are rare and usually, occur when high doses are consumed. Adverse reactions include bloating, nausea, insomnia, and gas.
Extremely high doses of folic acid can block the effects of some seizure medications. Also, high doses of folic acid can mask the symptoms of dangerous vitamin B12 deficiency and cause nerve damage.
Is there any natural alternative?
Some supplements contain 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), an active form of vitamin B9, which is considered a healthier alternative to folic acid. Also, 5-MTHF is equal to or even better than folic acid. But, you should consult your doctor about replacing your folic acid supplements with 5-MTHF.
Folic acid supplementation lowers blood pressure in pregnant women, but also in non-pregnant women and men. You should still consume healthy amounts to avoid side effects.