The Scoop on Folate and Vitamin B12

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Folate and vitamin B12 are two types of B vitamins frequently taken together. Widely available in combination supplements, folate and vitamin B12 function together in certain biological processes important for health.

Also known as vitamin B9, folate is available in a synthetic form called folic acid.

Why Do You Need Folate and Vitamin B12?

Folate works with vitamin B12 to help produce red blood cells, promote the proper functioning of iron, and regulate your blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine.

When it occurs at elevated levels, homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

In addition, consuming folate and/or taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy is thought to reduce the risk of a number of birth defects, including spina bifida.

What's more, vitamin B12 plays a key role in metabolism and in the maintenance of the central nervous system.

How Much Do You Need?

Most adults need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate and 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 daily. However, pregnant women need 600 mcg of folate and 2.6 mcg of vitamin B12. For women who are breastfeeding, 500 mcg of folate and 2.8 mcg of vitamin B12 are required.

Food Sources of Folate and Vitamin B12

Folate is found in many fruits and vegetables, yeast, legumes, cereals, and organ meat. Here's a look at the amounts of folate available in some of the top sources of this nutrient:

• braised beef liver (215 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• boiled spinach (131 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• boiled black-eyed peas (105 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• boiled Brussels sprouts (78 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• avocado (59 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• cooked broccoli (52 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• boiled mustard greens (52 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• boiled green peas (47 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• canned kidney beans (46 mcg per ½ cup serving)
• dry roasted peanuts (41 mcg per ounce)

Vitamin B12, meanwhile, is found in foods like eggs, meat, poultry, milk, and milk products. You can boost your vitamin B12 intake with the following foods:

• cooked clams (84.1 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• cooked beef liver (70.7 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• cooked wild rainbow trout (5.4 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• cooked sockeye salmon (4.8 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• light tuna fish, canned in water (2.5 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• cooked haddock (1.8 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• broiled top sirloin beef (1.4 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
• low-fat milk (1.2 mcg per cup)
• low-fat fruit yogurt (1.1 mcg per 8-ounce serving)
• Swiss cheese (0.9 mcg per ounce)

A variety of fortified foods also contain folate and vitamin B12.

Are You Getting Enough?

Although most people get enough folate from their diet, certain types of people (including those with inflammatory bowel disease, people struggling with alcoholism, and teenage girls) may be more likely to run low on this vitamin. Signs and symptoms of folate deficiency include weakness, fatigue, heart palpitations, and difficulty concentrating.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is also rare but can occur among people following a vegetarian or vegan diet, individuals over the age of 50, those with digestive disorders such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease, and certain other populations. Signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include anemia, loss of balance, and numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.

Taking Supplements

Taking supplements containing folic acid and/or vitamin B12 is said to protect against a range of health issues, including Alzheimer's disease, sleep problems, memory loss, depression, and osteoporosis.

While scientific support for the possible health benefits of folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements is fairly limited, some research shows that taking supplements containing a combination of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 may help reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration.

If you're considering the use of folic acid and/or vitamin B12 supplements in treatment of a chronic health problem, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.


Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Chew EY, Albert CM, Manson JE. "Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study." Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):335-41.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate." December 2012.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B12." June 2012.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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