Folic acid (FA), also known as vitamin B9, folate, folacin, or pteroyl-L-glutamic acid, is one of the B vitamin-complexes. Folic acid becomes bioactive for the body when it is metabolised by the liver, which converts it into dihydrofolic acid.
The body is not able to create folate, or vitamin B9, on its own; it needs to receive FA via the diet. Folic acid is found naturally in many foods;
- all cruciferous vegetables
- citrus fruits including oranges, lemons, grapefruits
It is rare that a serious deficiency is found in the body, however, people often choose to take this vitamin as a supplement, because the natural folic acid that occurs in food can be damaged by a high temperature when food is cooked.
FA is also damaged by ultraviolet light and it is water-soluble.
Many people take Vitamin B9 supplements to boost the growth and condition of their hair, skin and nails because the vitamin is required for the creation and repair of DNA, the coding of proteins and the synthesis of new cells and tissues.
Vitamin B9 deficiency can compromise the health of the hair and skin and cause a number of conditions such as anemia, chronic diarrhea or more serious cognitive and neurological issues and birth defects when a serious deficiency is maintained long term.
A lack of folic acid in the diet is known to cause poor hair growth and even hair loss. To prevent hair loss, it is recommended that a daily dose of 200mcg of folic acid be consumed by women, while men are able to tolerate a higher dose of 400mcg daily.
There is no upper limit for Vitamin B9 supplementation from food, however, the upper daily limit for pharmaceutical FA supplementation is 1000mcg. It is also important that enough water is consumed along with the supplementation of this vitamin.
How Does Folic Acid Deficiency Affect Hair Growth?
When FA is deficient in the body, the structure of red blood cells is affected and this structural change renders them unable to transport an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients around the body.
This can lead to anemia, but also hair loss, because healthy blood cells are required to transport the level of oxygen and nutrients that are required to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) within the cells within the scalp.
ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate that carries chemical energy around the cells and plays an important part in cell growth.
When oxygen and nutrient levels are low, the cells will require another source of energy to produce ATP, which can result in an increase in the body’s production of testosterone.
In this process testosterone becomes converted to DHT (dihydrotestosterone) and this is known to cause androgen-related hair loss. This clinical trial discusses the role of DHT in male pattern baldness, also known as Androgenic Alopecia, in mice.
Low levels of folic acid in the body causes important cellular processes to decline, which slows down the rate of cell division and hinders the growth of new cells, meaning that new hairs are not manufactured quickly enough to replace the hair strands that have broken or fallen out, as a result of cell damage.
Chronic deficiency of folic acid ultimately leads to the death of the hair cells.
Other important cells in the scalp are also affected by B9 deficiency, particularly oil-secreting cells, which play an important role in maintaining scalp health, as well as and papilla cells, which are involved in the production of new hairs and the regulation of the hair growth cycle.
More information about the role of papilla cells in hair growth has been noted in a clinical journal.
A lack of FA can be a factor also causes megaloblastic anemia, which results in a premature graying of the hair due to the change caused within the red blood cells.
Para-amino benzoic acid (abbreviated to PABA) is a substance in folic acid that is sometimes taken as a supplement to reverse greying hair.
How Does This Vitamin Promote Hair Growth?
- Folic acid plays a vital role in the growth of cells and tissues of all types. Not just the hair cells, but also cells within the nails, skin and internal organs. Folic acid is required for the division and regeneration of cells that are responsible for hair growth.
- Folic acid works in conjunction with other vitamins, including vitamin B12 (biotin) and vitamin C to assist the body in the synthesis, breakdown and metabolism of proteins. Hair is composed entirely of protein.
- When folic acid is metabolised by the liver it becomes folate and numerous vital cellular pathways require the use of folate, as it is a source of 1-carbon. Folate in this form is required for a number of critical methylation processes in the body including the manufacture and maintenance of RNA, DNA and proteins; the building blocks within hair tissue.
- Folic acid is important for the healthy circulation of blood because it is used in the formation of red blood cells. When folic acid is at an adequate level, the blood cells are well formed and thus able to transport the required amount of nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the scalp, which is used within the critical cell processes that improve the quantity and quality of hair growth.
Animal Studies Into Folic Acid And Hair Growth
Ontario Veterinary College, part of the University of Guelph, located in Canada, conducted a study into folic acid therapy to stimulate hair growth when they came across a male Charolais calf of three weeks old, who was experiencing gradual loss of his hair along with brown patches on the skin and areas of crusting, which happen to be very similar symptoms of folic acid deficiency in humans.
The veterinary practitioner gave 1 milligram (per kilogram of the calf’s weight) of folic acid every day. By two weeks into the treatment the crusty patches had disappeared and by two months the calf began to regain a normal level of hair growth.(1)
It is a known fact among sheep farmers that the length and diameter of each strand of sheep hair is dependent on the quality of nutrients that is consumed by the animal.
How Have People Used Folic Acid For Hair Growth?
Many people have embarked on a ‘100 Day Folic Acid Challenge’ where they have taken a daily folic acid supplement either alone, or along with a biotin (vitamin B12) or fish oil supplement and they have documented their results via video on YouTube.
Danielle Halsall took 100 folic acid tablets in 100 days and experienced 10 centimeters of overall hair growth as a result. She explains her story in her YouTube video.
When Julia reached day 100 of her hair growth experiment she also shared her experience in a video. Julia combined 800mcgs of folic acid with 1000mcgs of biotin daily for 100 days and she experienced three inches of hair growth.
A YouTube vlogger shares her experience of using folic acid to boost her hair growth within just a few weeks here. She experienced approximately an inch of growth within three weeks of taking folic acid.
At the start of this video another woman with very long hair shows how much length she created in her hair using folic acid supplements.
She stopped using the folic acid supplementation when she had grown her hair to the desired length of down to her waist.
Another person who has experimented with using folic acid combined with fish oil explains how she experienced noticeable hair growth within only 3 days of using folic acid.
Advice For Folic Acid Supplementation
Some supplements of folic acid can aggravate the stomach lining, so therefore it is usually advised to take a folic acid supplement with food.
It is advised that no more than 1miligram (1000mcg) of folic acid is taken daily.
Often, it is advised for people experiencing hair loss to take Vitamin B12 along with folic acid supplements, or at least have their levels of vitamin B12 regularly measured.
This is usually advised as folic acid supplementation can conceal megaloblastic anemia: a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency where the blood cells become disfigured, large and dysfunctional.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause severe injury to the nervous system and folic acid cannot in itself resolve the neurological impairment created by B12 deficiency.
Also, taking a single B vitamin supplement for a long period of time can sometimes cause the other B vitamins to become imbalanced in the body. This can be remedied by taking a B-complex supplement along with folic acid supplements.
My favourite supplements for hair loss can be found here.
Possible Interactions With Medications
Supplements of folic acid may interact with some medications. It’s important that you consult with your doctor before taking folic acid if you are at present using any of the following:
- Tetracycline:This is an antibiotic. Folic acid disturbs the metabolism of tetracycline and therefore reduces the absorption of this antibiotic by the body, thereby lowering its effectiveness. This is true for all of the B-complex vitamin supplements.
- Phenytoin: This is an anti-seizure treatment, also known as Dilantin, which is affected by folic acid supplements. Taking folic acid along with phenytoin can increase the risk of seizures.
- Pyrimethamine: This medication, also known as Daraprim, isused as a prevention treatment of malaria and as a treatment for toxoplasmosis. Folic acid can reduce the effectiveness of this medication.
- Chemotherapy medications:For patients who are currently taking chemotherapy treatment it is very important that they consult with their oncologist before they take any supplements because folic acid can increase the levels of Capecitabine (also known as Xeloda) and 5-fluorouracil to quite toxic levels within the body.
Medications That Decrease The Body’s Absorption Of Folate
Some medications lower the level of folic acid in the body, which may be a contributing factor to hair loss; therefore an appropriate folic acid supplement may need to be taken while these medications are being used, because these medications can raise the body’s requirements for folic acid.
Always consult with your doctor initially if you are currently taking medication and plan to add folic acid supplementation.
The following are medications, which can inhibit the body’s absorption of folate:
- Anti-inflammatory (Non-steroidal) pills (abbreviated to NSAIDs) including Ibuprofen and Naproxen.
- Sulfasalazine: A medication that is used to treat inflammatory disease of the bowel (IBD) as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Antacids, H2 Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors: These are substances, which neutralize the acidity within the stomach.
- Bile Acid Sequestrants: These are substances, which reduce cholesterol.
- Anti-seizure medications.
- Diuretic medications such as Triamterene, or Dyrenium.
- Some antibiotics such as Trimethoprim; this is an antibiotic, which is commonly prescribed to cure infection of the urinary tract; and Cycloserine.
- Methotrexate: This is a medicine that is used by patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and cancer. Folic acid can be prescribed to diminish the side effects of this drug (methotrexate). However it is important to note that patients who take methotrexate to treat cancer should not be taking folic acid supplements, unless they have permission from their doctor, because folic acid supplements can obstruct the effect of methotrexate on cancer.