Folic Acid, the Men’s Vitamin? Folic Facts for Father’s Day


fathers-day-wallpapers-pictures

“Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.” ~ Congressman Bill Richardson (Congressional Record, H3905-H3906, May 24, 1994)

If you thought that folic acid was only for women, think again!  Folic acid is a B Vitamin that plays a crucial role in healthy cell division.  It is essential for the formation of DNA – the blueprint at the heart of every one of our cells, which makes it as important for men as it is for women.  This is why we decided to focus our Men’s Health Week (June 10-17) and Father’s Day post on how folic acid and folate (the form found in foods) benefit men.

Folic Acid & Sperm – Facts for Future Fathers

healthy spermFolic acid is as important for future fathers as it is for moms to be.  Fertility experts have known for a long time that a poor diet can impair both sperm count and motility (how well the sperm move, which is crucial for fertilizing an egg).  A 2002 controlled study in the Netherlands published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, found that supplementing the diet with folic acid and zinc could significantly increase the quantity and quality of sperm in men who were having trouble getting their partner pregnant.

The first study to look at the effects of a father’s diet on genetic abnormalities found that men who ate high levels of folate—more than 700 micrograms (mcg) per day—had up to 30% fewer sperm with extra or missing chromosomes.  According to Suzanne Young, M.P.H., a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and coordinator of the study, “These abnormalities would cause either miscarriages or children with genetic problems if the sperm fertilized an egg.”  The study also found that the more folate a man got, the lower the levels of the defect.

Folate and Heart Health

I love my heartHeart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States.  In 2009 it was responsible for killing 307,225 men – or 1 in every 4 male deaths (see this CDC fact sheet to learn more). Getting enough folate and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) supports heart health.  They do this by reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Too much homocysteine is related to a higher risk of:

  • Heart disease;
  • Stroke;
  • Peripheral vascular disease (fatty deposits in peripheral arteries).

Both genetics and diet affect homocysteine levels. Folic acid and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) help break down homocysteine in the body. So far, no study has proved that folic acid supplements reduce the risk of heart disease and researchers are trying to find out how much folic acid, B-6 and/or B-12 are needed to lower homocysteine levels. However, the American Heart Association recommends that people at risk for heart disease get enough folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 in their diet (read on to find out how).

Other Potential Benefits

There is ongoing research on folic acid and its impact on a number of health conditions and diseases. While many of these studies are still preliminary, they suggest that adequate folate / folic acid may play a major role in reducing the risk for developing depression, certain forms of cancer, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’, among others.

How much folic acid do men need?

Since folate and folic acid aren’t stored in the body, it’s important to get at least the recommended amount of between 400-800 mcg everyday.  While it’s impossible to overdose on folic acid, getting more than 1000 mcg daily isn’t recommended, as doing so can mask a Vitamin-12 deficiency, a condition that can lead to neurological damage.  In fact, supplements of 1000 mcg of folic acid are only available by prescription.

How do I get enough folic acid?

cereal with strawberries - high in folate and folic acidMost experts recommend eating a diet that is high in folate, as well as taking a daily multi-vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.  Since the body can only absorb 50% of the folate that we get from foods, taking a supplement with both folate and other B-vitamins will ensure that you are meeting your daily needs.  If you dislike taking pills, try eating a bowl of breakfast cereal that is fortified with 400 mcg of folic acid instead; we absorb 85% of the folic acid in fortified foods. Click here for a list of cereals that have the recommended amount from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about food sources?

food with folic acidFoods that are Many foods are naturally high in folic acid, with beans, liver and leafy greens like spinach containing the highest amounts.  Click here for a list of the “folate top 10.” For a more extended list of folate-rich foods, check this food chart from the USDA. Want to know how to cook all of these great foods?  Browse our list of folate-full recipes, or download a copy of one of our recipe brochures: Easy Snacks (English) | Soulful Recipes (English) | Spanish | Chinese.


Go Folic! Women's Nutrition Project:

This is important news for any woman who might become pregnant and it makes sense, since our bodies require B-12 to process folic acid. And it’s one more reason to Go Folic! with a multi-vitamin. The study that this recommendation is based on recommends that women supplement with at least 2.5 mcg of B-12 everyday. Go Folic! Multis, which San Francisco women can get for free from the health department contain 6 mcg. If you don’t live in San Francisco, any multivitamin with 100% of the RDA will have this amount.

Originally posted on Go Folic!:

NTD2Spina bifida • Hydrocephalus • Information • Networking • Equality – SHINE is also launching an initiative to urge all UK health authorities and organisations to recognise the potential benefits of B12 and help support the work necessary to optimise the prevention of NTDs.

The author of the report, Professor John Scott, founder of the Vitamin Research Unit at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin, concludes: ‘It is clear that, as well as the addition of a folic acid supplement (400 mcg per day), the addition of a vitamin B12 component of at least 2.5 mcg per day would bring about a further significant and worthwhile risk reduction for NTDs.’

SHINE CEO, Jackie Bland commented, “NTDs are a serious health threat which can lead to enormous challenges and painful decisions. The most serious form, anencephaly, means that the baby will not live long beyond birth, and many…

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Clinician’s Corner Re-Post: Is There a “Best Way” to Take Vitamins?


Throughout National Folic Acid Awareness Week (NFAAW), we’ve been encouraging readers to “Go Folic” by taking a daily multi-vitamin with 400-800 mcg of folic acid. So we thought that this would be a great time to re-publish one of our most popular blog posts, “Is There a ‘Best Way’ to Take Vitamins?” by guest blogger and project consultant, Barbara Kass, RNCNP, MSN.


Best way for taking vitamins?Morning or Evening?  With or Without Food? Is there a  “Best Way” to take a vitamin supplement?

If you’re reading this, you already know that taking a daily multivitamin with 400-800 mcg of folic acid is good for your health. But how can you get the most from your supplement? It all has to do with when and how you take it.

On an empty stomach or with food?

Try to take your supplement with a meal. Your body makes better use of vitamins when you already have food in your stomach. If you can’t take it with a meal, try to take it within 30 minutes of eating. Taking supplements with food can also help prevent nausea.

When is the best time to take a vitamin?

It’s most important to take the supplement when it is most convenient for you and when you’ll remember to take it.  However, you may not want to take it in the afternoon or evening. Doing so may prevent you from sleeping well that evening.

Do vitamin supplements and medicines mix well?

If you are taking any medicines, ask your doctor if taking a multivitamin is safe. Some vitamins don’t mix with certain medicines such as blood pressure and blood thinning medicines. Other medicines may increase your need for certain vitamins.

Do multi-vitamins replace a good diet?

No! Vitamin supplements cannot replace a good diet.  They won’t give you protein, fiber and many other important nutrients found in foods.  Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Vitamin supplements need to work with these foods to help you stay healthy.

Is there anything special to look for when buying supplements?

Be sure that there is a ‘USP’ on the label.  USP stands for United States Pharmacopia.  This means that the supplement meets national quality standards. Also make sure that the vitamins aren’t old. Check the expiration date on the package.  If it has expired, will expire soon, or there is no expiration date, don’t buy the supplement.

Anything else I need to know?

Keep your vitamins in a dry, cool place. Don’t store them in a hot and humid place like a bathroom. Also, be sure to store them safely so that little children can’t take them.

Barbara Kass-AnneseBarbara Kass-Annese, RNCNP, MSN, is a clinician who has written extensively on the topic of vitamins and women’s health.  She also serves as a medical consultant to the Go Folic! Women’s Nutrition Project.

Going Folic in 2013 – An Easy New Year’s Resolution to Keep!


Going Folic! in 2013 Cereal or Vitamins, it's an easy New Year's resolution to keep!

How many New Year’s resolutions have you made over the years? How many of these resolutions have you kept?  According to USA.gov, the top 10 most popular resolutions are (not in any particular order): drink less alcohol, get a better education, get a better job, get fit, lose weight, manage debt, manage stress, quit smoking, recycle more, save money, take a trip, volunteer. With the exception of losing weight (read an alternative view here)

Go Folic! staff members like, and have made, many of the above resolutions over the years – volunteering, taking a trip, quitting smoking, recycling more. That said, we know that while New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, they can be less easy to maintain.

We have one resolution that can be easy to keep- Go Folic! for 2013!

Going folic means getting the recommended daily requirement for folic acid – 400 mcg.  Doing so is easy!  Just take a daily multi-vitamin with the recommended amount.  We recommend a multi-vitamin instead of a folic acid supplement because this B-vitamin needs other B-vitamins to do it’s work (visit our folic facts web page to learn why folic acid is so important).

where are the october multis??But vitamins can be expensive…

If you are a woman between the ages of 14 – 54, and live in San Francisco, you can get free Go Folic! multis that contain the recommended RDA for all vitamins, including vitamins K and D.  Visit our website to find out how.

What if I don’t like taking pills?

Cereals that contain 100% (400 mcg) of the RDA for folic acidIt’s still easy!  Eat a bowl of fortified cereal with the recommended amount everyday (cereal doesn’t have to be just a breakfast food). The graphic at right shows some of the cereals that contain 100% of the RDA for folic acid (click the image to enlarge it).  Click here to get a more complete list of cereals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Note: while we have included sugary cereals in our graphic, we recommend eating the whole grain variety!

Why not get all I need from folate-rich foods?

Which is better?  Foods or vitamins?At Go Folic! we are all about “turbo-charging” your diet with folate-rich foods.  However, the truth is that it’s difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone, even if your diet is healthful.  This is because your body only absorbs 50% of the folate (the form of folic acid found in food) you get from food, 85% of the folic acid in fortified grains and cereal, and 100% of the folic acid contained in a multi-vitamin.  Read this special health report from the Harvard Medical School on why it’s important to back up a healthy diet with a daily multi-vitamin.

Does my multi-vitamin or favorite cereal contain folic acid?

This is easy to determine, too.  Read the label – it should tell you exactly how much folic acid your multi-vitamin or favorite cereal contain.  Again, you want a multi-vitamin or cereal that contains at least 400 mcg of folate.

How to tell if your cereal or multivitamin contains the recommended amount of folic acid

We hope that we convinced you…

… to Go Folic! in 2013.  It’s one easy step you can take for a healthier, and more beautiful you!  Should you decide to start or expand your family, it is also one step towards a healthier tomorrow.

Go Folic! @ CYWD “Know Justice” Conference


know justice conference 2012Go Folic! and DPH Community Health Programs for Youth will be tabling at the 4th Annual Know Justice Conference this coming Wednesday, February 15, from 1-2 PM. The conference is cosponsored by the Center for Young Women’s DevelopmentUnited Playaz, Youth Radio and Visual Arts Academy Magnet Program (VAAMP).   

This FREE conference is created by and for young people affected by the juvenile justice system and the foster care system.  The Know Justice Conference will bring about 300 youth, families and service providers from all over the bay area together to give them access to the tools and resources needed to navigate the juvenile and criminal justice systems in order to advocate for themselves and others.

If you or a friend or family member has been involved with the juvenile justice and/or foster care systems, and live in San Francisco, this is THE conference to attend.  The conference will take place from 9 AM – 4 PM on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at the San Francisco Public Main Library.  Located at 100 Larkin Street @ Market the library is directly across from the Civic Center BART & Muni station, so is easy to get to.  Click here to register.

If you are planning to attend, we hope you’ll stop by our table between 1-2 PM.  Cole Street Youth Clinic staff member, Salina Yee, will be there distributing free Go Folic! vitamins and offering information on reproductive health care and Department of Public Health Department youth services.

Before Pregnancy Multivitamins May Mean Fewer Premies!


pregnancy test is positiveIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that taking a multivitamin with folic acid before you get pregant can reduce your future babies risk of being born with a neural tube defect (NTDs are serious problems with the brain or spine).  According to a new Danish study, just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it could lower your risk of preterm labor, too!

The Study

Poor nutrition is thought to play a role in pregnancy complications, such as preterm births and poor growth rates within the womb. The researchers asked 36,000 pregnant Danish womenabout their diet, weight and vitamin use.

Among those who said they had taken multivitamins at least eight out of the 12 weeks before conception, there were 4.3 percent preterm births (before 37 weeks). For those who didn’t take the supplements, the number was 5.3 percent. The vitamin-popping women were also less likely to have a smaller-than-normal baby.

While not conclusive, study findings are similar to those of a similar 2010 study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.  In this study, women who took folic acid at least 1 year before getting pregnant had a greatly reduced risk for having a premie.

Great news for women thinking of getting pregnant!

In California, 1 in 12 babies are born too early. Babies born before 37 weeks are not yet fully developed. Some babies who are born too early don’t live. Those who do survive often have serious life-long problems like blindness, deafness, lung problems, heart problems, liver problems, retardation, learning disabilities, difficulty eating, anemia, and cerebral palsy.

Some nutritionists recommend that pregnant women or women who are thinking of becoming pregnant not take mega-doses of certain vitamins.  However, it’s hard to eat right all of the time.  If you’re planning to get pregnant, eating right + taking a good daily multi with 100% of the RDA for all major vitamins (vs. mega-doses) can give you added insurance that you’re doing everything you can for your future baby’s health.  

San Francisco Women – Get Your Free Vitamins!

If you are a woman between the ages of 14-50 and live in San Francisco, you can get a year’s supply of FREE multivitamins from the SF Dept. of Public Health.  Click here to find out how.  And to get the most out of your vitamins, read our recent post on this topic.

Notes from the Field – OMI United Festival


Go Folic! was invited to join the OMI United Festival on April 30th .  The festival was held in Minnie & Lovie Ward Recreation Center, a newly build recreation in the Oceanview-Merced-Ingleside (OMI) neighborhood.   It has a large courtyard and different small class rooms. 

It was one of the sunniest days in April.  Go Folic! was in the courtyard giving out educational materials and free vitamins. 

One lady came by and said: “I remember you from one of your presentations.   I told my daughter who is planning to have a baby about folic acid.  She now started using your recipes brochure and eating a folate rich diet.” 

One other woman told me how great her nails became after taking folic acid. 

The woman next to her immediately said: “Really?! It really helps?  I should definitely take some.”  Now I feel how powerful and influential word of mouth can be.

Besides the great stories from our participants, Go Folic! also enjoyed the performances by community organizations.   It was also great to see Balboa Teen Health Center, Clinic by the Bay, OMI Family Resource Center, and many other organizations out there in the OMI.

Spanish Foodie Tuesday – Sopa de Vegetales y Salchichón de Pavo


Last week, we introduced the Go Folic! Savory & Soulful Recipes brochure.  Today, we will have our Foodie Tuesday in Spanish!  This recipe is taken from the Feeling Good Project’s Cooking Curriculum and is featured in Go Folic!’s new Spanish Recipe Brochure.  They are part of the Nutrition Services Program of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.  They aim to improve the nutritional well-being and physical activity of low income San Francisco residents by providing nutrition education to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and promoting daily physical activity.

For those who do not understand Spanish, don’t worry! We will post an English version in our next column.

Sopa de Vegetales y Salchichón de Pavo

Rinde 6 porciones

Ácido fólico = 75 mcg por porción / 19% RDA

Ingredientes:

  • 1 lb salchichón de pavo
  • ¼ tz caldo de pollo
  • 4 tz caldo de pollo
  • 3 tz agua
  • 1 lb vegetales de hojas verde, lavados y picados (hojas verdes de berza o mostaza, col rizada, espinaca, col, repollo)
  • pimienta, al gusto
  • hierbas frescas, al gusto (romero, perejil, orégano, otros)

Procedimiento:

  1. En una cacerola, sobre fuego mediano: cocine el chorizo de pavo con ¼ de taza de caldo de pollo
  2. Cocine hasta que el caldo se haya evaporado y el chorizo se dore un poco; quite del fuego y deje a un lado para que se enfrié
  3. En una olla grande, sobre fuego mediano: añada 4 tazas de caldo de pollo, el agua y los vegetales de hojas verde
  4. Cuando el chorizo se haya enfriado lo suficiente para cortar; córtelo en rebanadas de ¼- ½ pulgada y añádalo a la olla
  5. Continúe a concinando hasta que los vegetales de hojas verde se hagan suaves pero mantengan un color brillante
  6. Sazone con pimiento y hierbas de su gusto
  7. Sirva sobre arroz, con papas cocidas picadas, o con tortillas de maiz

Notes From the Field – Richmond Community Health Festival


On Saturday, May 14th, Go Folic! particpated in the 7th Annual Richmond Community Health Festival. People from all over the community gathered inside the huge gym to receive free health information and screenings for blood pressure, bone density, vision, and body mass index, among other things. Outside of the rec center, there were food tastings with steamed buns from local vendors. For the children, a book mobile was onsite, allowing them to view and purchase books.

The event was a huge success! Mei Lin and I had a steady stream of people interested in learning more about folic acid and receiving vitamins.

I remember one woman, in particular.  She came up to me and asked if she could take some vitamins for her daughter who had given birth two years ago but had stopped taking vitamins.

“Of course you can!” I replied.

She then explained that her daughter would only take them if she was the one to bring them to her. This mother talked about her relationship with her daughter and how important it was for her to be involved in her life.

She mimicked her daughter saying, “She says to me,  ‘You don’t know, you’re old Chinese’! I say to her, ‘I’m right Chinese, so do it’!” After that, her daughter would do whatever she suggested.

We died laughing, but it was great to see how it’s possible to reach people through others. I’ll bet $100 that her daughter is taking her vitamins religiously!

Healthy Women Bios – Anna Torrens Armstrong


Our Healthy Women Bio series is back with an interview with Anna Torrens Armstrong. Anna is a fitness instructor and online adjunct faculty member in Public Health. She is also a loving mother to her two year old son, Jack. Thank you Anna for sharing your thoughts on folic acid with us!

What can you tell us about folic acid?

It is so important for women to take to help prevent birth defects…even when you aren’t planning, your body is!

Why do you think it’s important to take a multi-vitamin?

I think it’s important because I am a very busy person and sometimes, despite my best efforts, I just can’t get all the vitamins I need from food – so I do a one a day.

What tips do you use to help remember to take your vitamins?

I keep them by my coffee maker – I never start the day without my coffee…I can’t miss it that way.

Why is women’s health important?

For me personally, its important simply because I am a woman. But I think at a societal level it is important for many reasons – we are unique in that we have children and our bodies have been such a mystery for so long. I think by helping women, in general, harness the power of being a woman, embrace it, and teach and provide for our unique health issues, our society will benefit from such efforts as a whole.

What do you like to do to be healthy?

I love to run, lift weights, travel, chase (and be chased) by my two year old son Jack, eat healthy and laugh. It is part of my lifestyle as well as my family’s lifestyle.

Is nutrition important when cooking traditional recipes?

Absolutely – I have adapted several cuban meals I cook to be healthier (but still taste great).

How do personal health practices relate to sexual health?

I think these two issues go hand in hand and sexual health is a part of personal health practices (doing it safely, knowing your body, being open with your partner, etc.).

Is being beautiful related to being healthy?

Absolutely – I think healthy puts a whole new spin on what it means to be beautiful. Some ideas of beauty, unfortunately, seem to evoke unhealthy images. Hopefully, the paradigm shift towards healthy as a new standard will also trickle into some of the images we see.