The importance of folate

Folate also known as vitamin B9 (or folic acid in its supplement form) is a B-vitamin that is needed for red blood cell development as well as DNA production. Folic acid is an essential nutrient in the body because it plays a critical role in cell division and works together with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body breakdown, use and produce new proteins.

A number of studies that have been published in recent years have identified a link between folate deficiency and fertility, not just in women of childbearing age, but also in men.

As folate plays an essential role during cell division and DNA synthesis, it has been associated with sperm concentration and quality, especially when looking at DNA integrity.

When it comes to female fertility and maternal health, it has been widely reported that women who have folate deficiencies are at higher risk of having a baby with neural tube defects. In addition to minimising the risk of congenital heart defects, neural tube defects and reducing the risk of a preterm birth, folate metabolism in the body has also been though to affect ovarian function, implantation, embryogenesis.

According to a study that came out of the University of Munich, associations have been found between low levels of folic acid and an increased level of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a common amino acid found in your body and when detected at high levels, can be associated with arterial damage, blood clots and heart attacks. The study found that it was also associated with recurrent spontaneous abortions and other complications in pregnancy.

When analysing the follicular fluid of female patients undergoing IVF, they also found that there was a positive correlation between sufficient levels of folate and vitamin B12 (cobalmin), and subsequent pregnancy rates. As mentioned previously, folate is essential for DNA synthesis and cell growth, therefore prior to conception, it’s important that folate levels are sufficient.

A paper from Harvard Medical School published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that women who were undergoing assisted reproduction had a higher likelihood of a successful outcome if they had sufficient levels of folate and vitamin B12. The researchers found there was a higher instance of live births, higher levels of fertilisation, a lower probability of cycle failure prior to the embryo transfer and was also associated with a greater chance of live births after IVF treatment.

Folate is naturally found in foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, asparagus, eggs, fresh leafy greens, beetroot, citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit, Brussels sprouts, broccoli bananas and avocados. It’s an essential nutrient found in abundance throughout a healthy, balanced diet.

It is crucial to note that like all medications and supplements, they can have benefits and can also be dangerous to exceed the daily recommended dose. We encourage our patients to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle when looking at undergoing fertility treatment during this time and strongly suggest that when in doubt, check with your fertility specialist and be guided by The Australian Government Department of Health.

Always remember: “The difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose.”