Taking Too Much Folic Acid Could Mask Deficiency In Other Vitamins - Here's How

Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for cell growth, development, and function, as well as DNA repair (via Healthline). The term folic acid is sometimes used interchangeably with folate — but while folic acid and folate are both forms of vitamin B9, according to Medical News Today, folate is the naturally occurring form that is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of the vitamin that is commonly used in dietary supplements and fortified foods, such as breads, cereals, and pastas.

Folic acid is especially important for the growth and development of the fetus during early pregnancy, and can help prevent certain congenital disabilities such as spina bifida. It's generally recommended, therefore, that women planning to become pregnant or in the early stages of pregnancy take a supplement to ensure they have adequate levels. Supplementation may also be recommended for people with certain medical conditions or those with a poor diet deficient in folate.

The vitamin also plays a role in the production of red blood cells and can help prevent anemia. As a water-soluble vitamin, it can't be stored in the body, so it needs to be consumed regularly through diet or supplements. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the recommended daily folic acid intake is 1000 mcg. Despite all the listed benefits, taking too much folic acid might cause various side effects and can also disguise a vitamin B12 deficiency.

How folic acid can obscure a B12 deficiency

According to Mount Sinai, folic acid and vitamin B12 work together in the body. The latter vitamin is also known as cobalamin and is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, the formation of red blood cells, and the production of DNA, per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Taking too much folic acid can sometimes mask a deficiency in vitamin B12, says Mount Sinai Health. Since a folic acid deficiency has similar symptoms, supplementation in the vitamin can also improve the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, says Healthline.

However, this improvement in symptoms will not address the underlying cause of the B12 deficiency — and untreated B12 deficiency might be dangerous to the nervous system, according to the National Health Service (NHS). Suppose you are experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, such as fatigue, weakness, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, and difficulty walking. In that case, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Other potential side effects of folic acid

Another potential consequence of taking too much folic acid is that it can interact with certain medications. For example, taking folic acid supplements can interfere with the action of certain medications, which can reduce their effectiveness, as explained by the NHS. Additionally, some evidence suggests that taking high doses of folic acid supplements may increase the risk of cancer by a small margin, explains the University of Alabama at Birmingham. However, the reverse effects happen if you take it moderately — because folic acid is vital for cell repair, having adequate levels can also reduce the risk of certain cancer types, mainly colorectal cancer.

Folic acid supplements may cause other side effects, such as bloating, loss of appetite, and redness. Please contact your doctor if you experience other symptoms such as breathing difficulties, tightness in the chest, or swelling in the mouth — these are symptoms of a severe allergic reaction that require immediate medical attention.