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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Hair growth might seem simple, but like many aspects of life, it’s a surprisingly complex process that involves numerous hormones, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients all working together.
One of these is folic acid, or vitamin B9, an essential vitamin that’s responsible for promoting the growth of cells within your body.
Because of its major role in cell growth, folic acid is important for the healthy growth of hair, skin and nails.
However, there currently isn’t much research on the effects of folic acid deficiency on hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained what folic acid is, as well as how it’s involved in promoting the growth of strong, healthy hair.
We’ve also explained what may happen to your hair if you develop folic acid deficiency anemia, a type of anemia caused by low folic acid levels.
Finally, we’ve shared a few actionable methods that you can use to boost your folic acid intake and maintain healthy, thick hair throughout the year.
Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is an important B vitamin. It’s sometimes referred to under the names folate and folacin.
Your body uses folic acid for a diverse range of internal processes, including synthesizing DNA, modifying DNA and RNA, forming red blood cells, and building and maintaining new tissue.
Unlike certain other vitamins, folic acid can’t be stored in your body. Instead, excess folic acid is expelled from your body through urine.
This means that you need to consume a healthy amount of folic acid on a regular basis, either through your diet or by using supplements.
Like with many other nutrients, the amount of folic acid that you need to consume varies during your life. The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that individuals consume between 65 and 600 micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents on a daily basis, based on their age:
Children under 6 months of age: 65mcg
Infants 7-12 months: 80mcg
Children 1-3 years: 150mcg
Children 4-8 years: 200mcg
Children 9-13 years: 300mcg
Teens 14-18 years: 400mcg
Adults 19 years or older: 400mcg
Folic acid is especially important for pregnant women, as research shows that it helps prevent neural tube defects (birth defects that can affect a baby’s brain and/or spine).
If you’re pregnant, you should aim to consume 600mcg of dietary folate equivalents per day. An easy way to reach your target is consuming 400mcg of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods in addition to your normal healthy diet.
If you’ve had a previous pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect, you might need to take a larger amount of folic acid.
Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider to find out about how much folic acid you should take during your pregnancy.
Folic acid supplementation is safe while breastfeeding. While breastfeeding, the suggested folic acid intake for adult women is 500mcg per day.
Like many other essential vitamins, folic acid is found naturally in lots of common foods. It’s also added to some fortified foods.
The best way to reach the recommended daily intake for folic acid is to eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
Good dietary sources of folic acid include:
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts and mustard greens
Fruits and fruit juices, such as fresh oranges and orange juice
Peas, beans and nuts, including kidney beans, black-eyed peas and peanuts
Fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, flour, rice and cornmeal
Chicken and turkey
Many breakfast cereals are fortified to contain the recommended daily intake of folic acid. When you’re comparing breakfast cereals, check the back of the pack for “folate” or “folic acid” on the list of ingredients.
Another way to take in folic acid is by using dietary supplements. Folic acid supplements can be found online and in most health food stores.
Many multivitamins also include folic acid as one of their active ingredients.
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future, consider taking a prenatal vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.
Our Multivitamin Gummies, which are formulated to support healthy hair and nails, contain folic acid and numerous other hair-friendly ingredients.
Your hair grows as part of a multi-phase cycle that’s referred to as the hair growth cycle. During the anagen, or growth, phase of this cycle, the hair bulb — a part of the hair follicle located deep inside your skin — produces new cells that eventually form each hair shaft.
The anagen phase of the hair growth cycle lasts for several years, after which the hair detaches from the follicle and sheds, allowing a new hair to take its place.
Around 90 percent of your hair follicles are in the anagen phase at any one time, meaning most of the hairs on your scalp are in a state of active growth.
Because folic acid plays a key role in promoting and regulating cell growth, it’s important to take in a healthy amount of folic acid to support the growth of your hair.
If you don’t take in enough folic acid, you may develop folic acid deficiency anemia — a medical condition in which your body isn’t able to produce red blood cells due to folate deficiency.
Red blood cells play a vital role in delivering oxygen to your tissues and organs, including your skin and hair follicles.
If you have folic acid deficiency anemia, you may experience symptoms such as pale skin, a smooth and tender tongue, reduced energy and a weaker appetite.
Folic acid deficiency can also cause physical weakness, headaches and soreness that affects your tongue and mouth.
Research suggests that folic acid deficiency may be associated with a higher risk of developing canities, or gray hairs.
However, studies have yet to find a major link between low levels of folic acid and hair loss.
In a study published in the International Journal of Trichology in 2017, researchers found that a group of young people with premature gray hairs had lower mean levels of folic acid, biotin and vitamin B12 than their peers.
The researchers noted an association between folic acid deficiency and gray hair, but noted that more research is necessary in order to reach a more reliable conclusion.
When it comes to hair loss or female pattern hair loss, the research is mixed. In a small-scale study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology in 2014, experts looked into a possible link between low levels of folate, homocysteine, C-reactive protein and alopecia areata, a form of autoimmune hair loss.
They found that people with alopecia areata had significantly lower blood folate than people with normal, healthy hair loss included in a control group.
Interestingly, they also found that the people with the most severe alopecia areata hair loss had the lowest folate levels, suggesting an association between low levels of folate and the severity of this form of hair loss, but others, like female pattern hair loss.
While this may sound concerning, it’s important to note that alopecia areata only accounts for a small fraction of hair loss cases in women.
Most hair loss in women is the result of female pattern baldness — a genetic and hormonal issue that’s largely unrelated to your intake of vitamins and minerals.
It’s also worth noting that other studies of folic acid and alopecia areata have produced different findings.
For example, a 2013 study published in Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology failed to find any significant relationship between folic acid levels and alopecia areata hair loss.
Overall, research is mixed. While folic acid is important for proper cell growth and appears to be linked to hair graying, there just isn’t any large-scale, highly authoritative research that shows a link between folic acid deficiency and hair loss.
Folic acid deficiency anemia can affect anyone, although certain people may have a higher risk of developing this condition than others.
You may be more at risk of developing a folic acid deficiency if you:
Have an alcohol use disorder
Have hemolytic anemia
Follow a restrictive diet for weight loss
Have a poor diet that’s lacking in folic acid-rich foods
Have health issues that prevent you from absorbing nutrients, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Use certain prescription medications
Frequently eat overcooked food
If you’re concerned that you may have a folic acid deficiency, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
To diagnose folic acid deficiency anemia, your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms.
They may perform tests to check your folic acid levels, such as a complete blood count (CBC) or red blood cell folate level test.
Folic acid deficiency is treatable. If you have folic acid deficiency, your healthcare provider may recommend one or several of the treatment options:
Treating underlying medical conditions. If your folic acid deficiency is linked to an underlying health condition, such as hemolytic anemia or an alcohol use disorder, you’ll likely need to treat the underlying condition.
Eating folate-rich foods. You may be able to increase your folic acid levels by following a diet that’s rich in natural sources of folate, such as green vegetables, fruits, beans and lean, folate-rich cuts of meat.
Adding fortified foods to your diet. An easy way to take in more folic acid from dietary sources is by switching from regular breakfast cereals, breads and other starches to fortified versions that contain extra folic acid.
Using a folic acid supplement. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you take a multivitamin or folic acid supplement. Look for products that contain at least 400mcg of folic acid per serving, as these make it easy to reach your daily target.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may provide a folic acid injection into your muscle, or less commonly, into a vein.
Folic acid deficiency anemia usually improves with treatment. By treating underlying conditions, making changes to your diet and, if necessary, using a folic acid supplement, you should start experiencing improvements over the course of three to six months.
Folic acid deficiency can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, headaches, pale skin and even premature graying of your hair.
However, research is mixed on the link between folic acid deficiency and hair loss. While some studies show a relationship between reduced folic acid levels and autoimmune hair loss, others don’t show the same link.
You can maintain healthy levels of folic acid by eating a balanced diet, treating underlying health conditions and using a supplement that contains folic acid, such as our Multivitamin Gummies.
Worried about hair loss? Our complete guide to female hair loss goes into more detail about the most common signs of hair loss, the factors that can cause you to lose your hair and the proven steps that you can take to maintain thick, strong and healthy hair at any age.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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