Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate (vitamin B9) — an essential vitamin that your body cannot make itself.
As such, you need to obtain folate through your diet to meet your daily needs. Good dietary sources include beef liver, spinach, kale, avocado, broccoli, rice, bread, and eggs (1).
While the terms folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably, the two are distinct.
Folic acid has a different structure and slightly different biological effects than folate. Unlike folate, not all the folic acid you eat is converted into an active form called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).
- making and repairing DNA
- assisting cell division and healthy cell growth
- producing and maturing red blood cells
- converting homocysteine to methionine
While the benefits of folic acid for women and pregnancy are well known, you may wonder whether folic acid offers any advantages for men.
This article explores the health benefits of folic acid for men.
Mental health disorders are common and affect around 16% of men in the United States (3).
For example, a large review of 43 studies including over 35,000 people found that those with depression tended to have lower folate levels and typically consumed less folate through their diet than people without depression (
Another review that included 6 studies and 966 people found that taking folic acid supplements alongside antidepressant medication could reduce symptoms of depression significantly more than taking an antidepressant medication alone (
That said, more research in the area of folic acid and treatment for mental health disorders such as depression is needed before making recommendations.
Some research suggests that taking folic acid supplements may benefit people with depression who have low blood levels of folate, particularly when combined with conventional antidepressant treatments.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and responsible for approximately one in every four deaths among men in the United States (
One risk factor for heart disease and stroke is high blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that’s a byproduct of protein digestion (
Folate plays an essential role in the metabolism of homocysteine and helps keep its levels low in your body. Thus, a folate deficiency may elevate blood homocysteine levels, potentially causing a condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia.
Supplementing with folic acid has been linked to a reduction in heart disease risk factors, including elevated homocysteine levels. What’s more, folic acid may help reduce blood pressure and aid blood flow.
Hair loss and gray hair are common among men, especially as they age.
Plenty of supplements and vitamins on the market are targeted at promoting hair regrowth and preventing gray hair, including folic acid.
One reason why folic acid is purported to promote hair health is that it plays a role in healthy cell growth, which also applies to the cells found in your hair.
For example, one study in 52 men and women with prematurely gray hair found that they had significantly lower blood levels of folate, vitamin B12, and biotin (B7) than people without these hair changes (
That said, research on folic acid and hair health and growth is still new and minimal, so more research is needed to better understand the connection.
There’s limited research on folic acid and hair health, with one study linking low blood folate levels to premature gray hair. More research in this area is needed to make definitive conclusions.
Folic acid and zinc are often sold together as supplements marketed to boost male fertility.
Many studies have looked into these supplements. Yet, they’ve observed mixed results, especially among healthy men. However, among men with fertility issues, some research suggests these supplements may improve fertility.
A review of 7 controlled trial studies in subfertile men also found that those who took a daily folate and zinc supplement had a significantly higher sperm concentration, as well as much higher quality sperm, than those taking a placebo (
Similarly, a 6-month study in 64 men with infertility found that those who took a daily supplement containing vitamin E, selenium, and folate had a significantly higher sperm count and more motile sperm than those who took a placebo (
However, other studies have found that folate and zinc have no effect on male fertility and conception.
For example, a recent 6-month study in 2,370 men seeking help with infertility concluded that daily supplements containing 5 mg of folic acid and 30 mg of zinc did not significantly improve semen quality or aid conception (
As such, despite some evidence that the combination of folic acid and zinc may promote fertility, more research is needed.
Some research suggests that supplementing with folic acid and zinc may improve sperm quality and motility in subfertile men. However, other studies show no effect, so more research is needed.
Increasing folate through natural sources like foods is generally safe. However, supplementing with high doses of folic acid has been associated with adverse side effects.
Side effects of excess folic acid include masking a B12 deficiency, compromised immune function, and increased prostate cancer risk. Nevertheless, toxicity is rare. That’s because your body readily removes excess folate, as it’s a water-soluble vitamin (1,
The tolerable upper limit (UL) of this vitamin, or the highest dose unlikely to cause adverse effects, is 1,000 mcg per day. However, only synthetic forms of folate like folic acid have a UL, as there have been no reported adverse effects from a high intake of folate-rich foods (
It’s also worth noting that most people in the United States meet their daily folate requirements, so taking a supplement isn’t always necessary.
For example, on average, men consume 602 mcg DFE (dietary folate equivalent) daily, which is greater than the daily intake requirement of 400 mcg DFE (1).
That said, taking a supplement can be a convenient way for some people to meet their daily requirements. This is especially true for people at risk of a deficiency, including older adults.
Folic acid supplements come in many forms, such as a stand-alone nutrient or component of a multivitamin or B-complex vitamin, as well as in combination with other specific vitamins. They typically provide 680–1,360 mcg DFE, equaling 400–800 mcg of folic acid (1).
Do not exceed the UL of 1,000 mcg per day unless advised to do so by your healthcare provider — for example, to combat a folate deficiency.
Also, keep in mind that folic acid supplements may interact with commonly prescribed medications, including methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and various anti-epileptic medications such as Depacon, Dilantin, and Carbatrol (1).
As such, if you take any of these medications, consult your healthcare provider before taking folic acid supplements, regardless of their strength.
Most men meet their daily folate needs through diet alone, but supplementing can help some people as long as the UL isn’t exceeded. As with any dietary supplement, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking folic acid.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate (vitamin B9).
Although deficiency is uncommon among men, it may improve heart health, hair, fertility among subfertile men, and certain mental health conditions like depression.
Folate is found in various plant foods, meats, and fortified grains, but regardless, some people choose to take folic acid supplements for convenience. It comes in multiple forms, such as a stand-alone nutrient, in multivitamins, or in combination with other vitamins.
High doses of folic acid above the UL of 1,000 mcg per day may have adverse effects, and folic acid supplements can interact with various common medications. As with any dietary supplement, notify your healthcare provider before taking folic acid.