Chances are, when you hear “folic acid,” images of babies, pregnant women or prenatal supplements — or a combination of all of these — are what come to mind. Folic acid, also known as folate, is frequently found in prenatal supplements, as it is an essential vitamin that plays an extremely important role in fetal neural development.
And, as it turns out, folic acid has benefits between those gained by newborns or pregnant women: It also might be your ticket to stronger, healthier hair growth.
Folic Acid vs. Folate: What’s the Difference?
“Folic acid is the man-made version of the vitamin folate vitamin b-9,” said Dr. Michelle Henry of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan. Both folic acid and folate are closely related, and ultimately, they do create relatively similar effects in the body. However, they do have differences, too.
What Is Folate?
Folate is also known as folacin or vitamin b-9. "Folate is found naturally occurring in certain foods such as green leafy vegetables and legumes," said Dr. Henry. "Folate is one of the essential nutrients for the production of red blood cells."
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the manufactured version of folate that is commonly used in nutritional supplements, including prenatal and other vitamins. Folic acid is also found in fortified foods. Once it is consumed — but before entering the bloodstream — folic acid converts into a biologically active form of folate.
How Much Folic Acid Should You Take?
The amount of folate or folic acid each person should aim to consume each day depends on a variety of factors. For example, children typically need less folate than adults, while pregnant women require a higher amount.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Folic Acid?
Many women notice that one of the exciting perks during pregnancy is new hair growth. While there is some evidence that attributes the growth to hormones, others credit it to the vitamins and minerals found in prenatal supplements — especially those which include folic acid.
Pregnant or not, maintaining an adequate level of folate intake via supplements may contribute to healthy hair perks for all types of people.
"For those with a deficiency in B vitamins, it [folic acid] can do a number of things," said Dr. Henry. "For those with thinning hair, folic acid stimulates the hair growth cycle because it is responsible for helping to generate new cells. It prevents premature graying by keeping levels of oxygen-rich red blood cells normalized and stabilized (when they are not, pigmentation issues can occur)."
Dr. Henry also pointed out that folic acid supplementation may also cause increases in hair volume. She reasoned that the supplement's contribution to new cell production may help hair growth return to thinning areas.
What Folate Does in the Body
Within the body, folate acts as an essential enzyme that plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA. Folate also plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids. Translation: Your body requires adequate levels of folate in order to create DNA, along with keeping the cells dividing and regenerating properly. Folate creates new red blood cells and tissue growth, which are essential in helping hair grow in a healthy manner.
Folate is also needed for improved overall physical health. A diet that is lacking in folate and its important nutrients may have significant repercussions. For example, a folate deficiency can lead to anemia — a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells — in both pregnant women and other people.
Anemia comes with a host of unpleasant symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, poor concentration, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. This condition may also impact physical appearance, at times causing the hair and nails to become brittle, discolored or sparse.
How Does Folic Acid Affect Hair Growth?
Understanding how folic acid helps with hair growth requires understanding the relationship between it and red blood cells: “Folic acid is a form of water-soluble vitamin B that helps make healthy red blood cells,” said Elizabeth Hickman, professional hairstylist.
To explain further, folic acid aids in making red blood cells, which have the job of carrying oxygen to all organs, including the hair follicles in the skin. The hair follicles rely on that oxygen to function properly, and without it, they have a much harder time producing keratin, which is the building block of hair.
“Keeping your cells healthy and generating new cells can help to grow stronger and healthier hair...” Hickman said.
It is no surprise, then, that studies have shown that those with autoimmune-induced hair loss have lower levels of folate within the body. In addition, having a folate deficiency can lead to more than just hair loss — it may also cause existing hair to lose its color and bring on premature graying.
What To Look for in a Folic Acid Supplement
While folic acid is essential in supporting healthy hair growth, it is not the only vitamin or supplement that benefits both the hair and skin. Rather, it’s best to choose hair care supplements that include additional hair-boosting ingredients, such as B complex, vitamin B12 and biotin. Combining the benefits of folic acid, along with other important B-vitamins, may help improve overall hair wellness.
Vitamin B12 is just as important as folate in order to produce healthy red blood cells; this vitamin also delivers keratin-stimulating oxygen to the hair follicle. However, one of the most common issues with folic acid supplementation is that it might mask vitamin B12 deficiencies. As these deficiencies can also lead to anemia, it is important to take a hair care supplement that includes both folic acid and B12. This allows both B vitamins to work together to ensure optimal oxygen circulation within the body.
Of all of the B vitamin deficiencies, however, a lack of biotin is the one that has been most closely linked with hair loss. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have recommended biotin supplements taken along with other B vitamins to patients dealing with hair loss. This has also proven itself effective for strengthening the nails.
B vitamins, including biotin, comprise an important part of the GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair — vegan vitamin supplements that can be taken twice a day to promote healthy hair. The gummies also include vitamins A, C, and E, along with zinc, to help both hair and overall health.
As oxidative stress has been linked to hormonal hair loss, taking a regular hair care supplement that contains these antioxidants can help act as a preventative and bolster the effects of the B vitamins.
You can also opt for other supplements that include ingredients that target other causes of hair loss extending beyond nutritional deficiencies. The latest buzz in the wellness world, CBD, which is the non-psychoactive ingredient taken from the hemp plant, is also a phenomenal choice as a hair-loss preventative supplement. While folic acid addresses hair loss caused by nutritional deficiencies, CBD is thought to be able to target the worsening of hair loss.
CBD has a calming and anti-inflammatory effect, which may help alleviate hair loss caused by stress and inflammation. Another option: Try taking broad spectrum hemp gummies for hair, which combine the soothing effects of CBD with the restorative effects of folic acid, other B vitamins and antioxidants.
Additional members of Team VEGAMOUR contributed to the reporting for this article.
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