Folate: a key to optimizing health and reducing disease risk in the elderly

J Am Coll Nutr. 2003 Feb;22(1):1-8. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2003.10719270.


Inadequate folate status is associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases that may have a negative impact on the health of the aging population. Folate, a water-soluble vitamin, includes naturally occurring food folate and synthetic folic acid in supplements and fortified foods. Inadequate folate status may result in hyperhomocysteinemia, a significant risk factor for atherosclerotic vascular disease, changes in DNA that may result in pro-carcinogenic effects and increased risk for cognitive dysfunction. Folate status may be negatively influenced by inadequate intake, genetic polymorphisms and interactions with various drugs. In the US, folic acid is now added to enriched grain products and continues to be included in the majority of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. Recent data indicate that the folate status in the US population has improved significantly, presumably due to the effects of fortification. Folic acid (not food folate) intake in excess of the Tolerable Upper Intake Level may mask the diagnosis of a vitamin B(12) deficiency, which is more prevalent in the elderly than younger individuals. When folic acid supplements are recommended, a multivitamin that includes vitamin B(12) should also be advised. To safely and effectively increase folate intake in the elderly, naturally occurring folate-rich food sources should be promoted. Folate-rich foods include orange juice, dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, strawberries and legumes. These foods are also excellent sources of other health-promoting nutrients associated with chronic disease risk reduction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biological Availability
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Folic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / complications*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / prevention & control
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vegetables
  • Vitamin B 12 / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / epidemiology


  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B 12