Folic acid may help treat allergies and asthma


This is the season when allergies can begin to make themselves felt and among natural remedies available, including bee pollen, there is now new evidence that folic acid, or vitamin B9, may also suppress allergic reactions and lessen the severity of allergy and asthma symptoms. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, carried out at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in the US, and reported in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

The link between blood levels of folate – the naturally occurring form of folic acid — and allergies adds to increased evidence that folate can help regulate inflammation which is at the root of allergic reactions. This research showed that people with the lowest folate levels had a 30 percent higher risk of developing allergies and a 31 percent higher risk of allergic symptoms than people with the highest folate levels. On the asthma front, there was a 16 percent higher risk of having asthma in those with the lowest folate levels.

Asthma affects more than 5 million adults and children in the UK, and is the most common chronic condition among children. Environmental allergies have an even wider reach so anything that helps strengthen your system to resist them has to be worth considering, particularly if you are already suffering from allergies.

The researchers say it’s too soon to start recommending folic acid supplements to prevent or treat people with asthma and allergies, but you could check how many of the folic-deficiency symptoms you have from this list:

* Irritability
* Mental fatigue, forgetfulness, or confusion
* Depression
* Insomnia
* General or muscular fatigue
* Gingivitis or periodontal disease

Adult men and women (except during pregnancy) are recommended to have 400 micrograms of folate a day and many cereals and grain products are already fortified with it so you may be getting enough. If you think you might be deficient then you might want to increase, or add, excellent food sources such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, green peas, avocado, banana, lentils and nuts.

How to lower stroke risk

Do you have plenty of asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, chick peas, oranges, wheat germ and kidney beans in your diet? If so, then you are naturally getting high levels of folate, which is a water soluble member of the B vitamin family, B9 to be exact. Folate is vital in protecting you against the risk of a cerebral infarction, the most common kind of stroke. In fact it accounts for 80% of all strokes, and so a recent study wanted to look at whether supplementing with vitamins, or increased intake of foods high in , could make a difference.

A dual study in Sweden and Finland have been looking at the relationship between folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and the amino acid methionine – all of which are involved with homocysteine production. Why should they be interested in that? Because high levels of blood homocysteine are linked to increased stroke risk, and much interest is being shown in how to use supplements, and diet, in a more preventive way in healthcare.

The findings of the study are encouraging if you are at risk of a stroke: those with the highest intake of folate had a 20% lower risk of stroke than those with the lowest levels.

These findings are based on the subjects’ normal, everyday, diet. They were not given any supplements or asked to eat any differently with special foods. So if you have any incidence of strokes in your family, it makes sense to include as many of these foods as possible in your diet. I certainly have a family history and much as I dislike Brussels sprouts, I must try to love them – although I think it will be my asparagus intake that goes up first!

Depression in men could be reduced by 50%

There have been several studies linking folic acid (folate) intake specifically, and all the B vitamin group generally, to improved mood. Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food and studies done by scientists at the University of York and Hull York Medical School reported that low levels of it in the body were linked to increased depression overall, but now a new study has made a specific link to depression in men

Researchers from the International Medical Centre of Japan, and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition, undertook a study involving 500 Japanese subjects. Of these, 36% of the men and 37% of the women were found to have symptoms of depression on starting the study. What they found was that the men with the highest average intake (235 micrograms per 100 kcal) of folate were 50% less likely to have depressive symptoms than men with the lowest average intake (119 micrograms per 100 kcal). They also found that increased levels of folic acid did not mean less depression in the women subjects, only in the men.

While it is clear that increased folate intake will help men, either from a dietary supplement or food such as dark leafy greens like spinach, citrus fruit and dried beans and peas, and because of it’s importance in pregnancy, you will find many foods such as breakfast cereals fortified with added folic acid, so check the labels.

It is important for both men and women’s health that there is a good supply of the entire B-complex vitamins in the diet, not just folic acid alone as they work together synergistically to provide the best ‘mood’ protection. If your diet contains dairy, whole grains, omega 3 and 6 oils and lean meats then you are probably getting a good variety. If in doubt, take a good B complex supplement from a reputable source.