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Folate (serum)

Reviewed by Dr Nicky Keay

Chief Medical Officer. BA, MA, MB, BChir (Cantab), MRCP.

Folate (serum)

What is Folate?

Folate is the name given to a group of compounds and is derived from the word ‘foliage’. Folate or folic acid naturally occurs in foods such as spinach, green vegetables and liver. Folate is also known as vitamin B9 and has crucial roles in the production of DNA.[1]

What Role Does Folate Play in The Body?

Human beings must get their intake of folate from their diet as we are unable to make it ourselves. Folate is particularly important during pregnancy as it is needed for adequate foetal and placental development.[2] All females are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid while they try to get pregnant and then for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This helps to ensure the baby’s spine develops properly and reduces the risk of neural tube defects including spina bifida.[3]

We also need folate for the development of our red blood cells, for the formation of DNA and to enable our nerves to function effectively.[4]

How Does Folate Affect My Wellbeing?

Folic acid is needed for the proper development of red blood cells. If this is not the case, then macrocytic anaemia can occur. This is where the red blood cells are unable to carry oxygen as efficiently and can cause large red blood cells.

Usually, folate is also analysed alongside vitamin B12 as these can both be markers for macrocytic anaemias. They can also both be used to look at nutritional status especially if malnutrition is suspected. Both B vitamins are needed for adequate red cell development, cell repair and DNA synthesis.

How Can I Improve My Result?

Folate can only be acquired from the diet and so this may be the best place to start with improving and maintaining folate levels. Supplementation may be required particularly during pregnancy.


Good sources of folate include:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • brussel sprouts
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • liver
  • shellfish
  • whole grain foods
  • beef and yeast extracts
  • fortified cereals[4]

Supplementation may be required if your levels are low. However, this can mask any anaemia which may also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. You should consult your GP before beginning supplementation.


Exercise is believed to be key to managing stress and reducing anxiety and depression.[5] You should aim to exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week to feel the full benefits of exercise.

However, you should bear in mind that anaemia can seriously affect your energy levels. Therefore, you may find that your performance may be affected if you are anaemic.

Folate (serum) Tests

All these tests include Folate (serum). Select the test that suits your personal needs.

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[1] The Open University. (2017). Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals.

[2] Castaño, E., Piñuñuri, R., Hirsch, S and Ronco, A, M. (2016). Folate and Pregnancy, Current Concepts. It is Required Folic Acid Supplementation? Rev Chil Pediatr: 88(2), pp 199-206.

[3] NHS Choices. (2018). Why Do I Need Folic Acid in Pregnancy? Available at:

[4] British Dietetic Association. (2016). Folic Acid. Available at:

[5] Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. (2011). Exercising to Relax. Available at:

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