Folate deficiency can result in congenital neural tube defects and megaloblastic anaemia. Low folate levels may be due to insufficient dietary intake or inefficient absorption, but impaired metabolic utilization also occurs.
Because B12 deficiency can produce a similar anaemia to folate deficiency, there is a risk that folate supplementation can delay the diagnosis of B12 deficiency, which can cause irreversible neurological damage. Folic acid supplements may sometimes therefore include vitamin B12 supplements with simultaneous administration of vitamin B12.
Lesser degrees of folate inadequacy are associated with high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine which has been linked with the risk of arterial disease, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. There is therefore interest in whether dietary supplementation can improve cognitive function in the elderly.
However, any apparent benefit from folic acid which was given in combination with B12 needs to be "corrected" for any effect of vitamin B12 alone. A separate Cochrane review of vitamin B12 and cognitive function has therefore been published.