An essential B vitamin, folate—called folic acid in supplements—deserves special attention because a shortfall can contribute to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and neural tube defects in babies. Lack of folate can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition characterized by abnormally low numbers of red blood cells that become enlarged, with symptoms that include lack of energy, irritability, and trouble concentrating.
Studies have also found possible links between low folate levels and increased risk for depression, cognitive difficulties, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, preterm births, and possibly cancer.
For decades, folic acid supplementation has been emphasized for women to prevent birth defects in their children, and such tragedies have been reduced. But older people are also at risk of deficiency because of poor diet, poor digestion, or other health conditions.
Folate and vitamin B work together to make red blood cells, prevent anemia, and perform other vital functions. An Australian study of 900 people between the ages of 60 and 74 found that supplementing daily with 400 mcg of folic acid and 100 mcg of B reduced mental distress and improved memory. In addition, taking a B-complex supplement can provide other essential B vitamins that work together.