Plant-based diets are key to brain health, and one reason are folates. At least eight forms of these water-soluble B-complex vitamins exist in food. Folic acid is the synthetic version. Folates, also known as vitamin B9, are needed for a healthy brain and good moods as they keep brain cells healthy, ward off heart disease (drastic risk reductions), and even fight cancer. Thankfully, the Farmacy never runs out of folates. Their name comes from the Latin word for foliage or leaf, “folium.”

Folates function in the body by donating a single carbon to other molecules. I think of these one carbon “methyl” groups like a currency in the body–they get passed around. Folates are required for proper cell division and DNA replication as they are used to make the “backbone” of DNA itself. Running low on folate leads to a low blood count, anemia, as well as areas of DNA that are “hypomethylated,” which is clearly linked to developing cancer.

High concentrations are found in your cerebrospinal fluid, the liquid cushion for your brain. Folate also seems to work in synergy with the omega-3 fats boosting production of long-chained DHA and EPA. These not only form out brain cells, but also create molecules like defensin-1 that protect the brain. Folate has also been shown to increase the concentrations of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter associated with memory and cognition.

The lining of your intestines contains a special set of enzymes that digest folates, another reason that gut health is so important to brain health. People with illnesses like gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and forms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are at risk for folate deficiency.

Top Farmacy Sources: Leafy Greens, Lentils, Black-eyed peas, Asparagus, Beef Liver, Eggs

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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