Folic acid is a form of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folic acid is a key factor in the making (synthesis) of nucleic acid - nucleic acid is one of a family of large molecules including DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid).
The human body does not store folic acid, we have to consume it every day in order to make sure we have adequate amounts.
Why is folic acid important?
- To synthesize DNA, RNA and to repair
- Aiding rapid cell division and growth
- To produce healthy red blood cells
- It is important for pregnant women to have enough folic acid to prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain or spine (neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly)
- Enhances brain health. Dutch researchers reported that folic acid supplementation may improve memory.
In 1992, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) advised fortifying the country's food supply with folic acid. In 1998 folic acid started being added to breads and other grains.
Who should take folic acid?
All women of child-bearing age should take folic acid, not only those who are planning to get pregnant, according to March of Dimes2. March of Dimes director, Richard Johnston, Jr. M.D., said that in order to be effective in preventing birth defects, women should take folic acid before getting pregnant as well as during the first four weeks after conception.
As almost half of all US pregnancies are unplanned, every woman who is capable of getting pregnant should be taking daily folic acid supplements.
According to the Teratology Society3, all women who are capable of having babies should take 0.4mg folic acid, or make sure they consume enough fortified cereal grain products to reach 0.4mg of folic acid per day.
The online journal PLOS Medicine wrote in 2009 that females who take folic acid supplements for at least 12 months before becoming pregnant could cut their risk of having a premature baby by about half.
Recent developments on folic acid from MNT news
A new mouse study suggests excess intake of the B vitamin could inflict unfavorable changes on the immune system, lowering our ability to fight cancer.
Natural sources of folic acid
Dark green vegetables are good sources of folic acid. Be careful not to overcook, as the folic acid content can drop considerably.
The following foods are known to be rich in folic acid:
Spinach is rich in folic acid
- Baker's yeast
- Brussel sprouts
- Egg yolk
- Jacket potato (large)
- Liver (pregnant women should not consume liver)
- Many fruits have moderate amounts, papaya and kiwi have more
- Sunflower seeds
- Wholewheat bread (usually fortified).
Folic acid deficiency anemia
People can get folic acid deficiency anemia if they do not eat enough foods which contain folic acid, they require higher quantities of it and are not taking them, such as pregnant and lactating women, individuals with medical problems, such as sickle cell disease, or the person's body does not absorb enough of it, as may happen with alcohol abuse or improper functioning kidneys.
Some medications, such as those used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and seizures may raise the risk of folic acid deficiency anemia.
The signs and symptoms of folic acid deficiency disease include:
- Fatigue, tiredness
- Feeling generally weak
- Being irritable, easy irritated
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss.
Patients with folic acid deficiency anemia are given folic acid pills to be taken daily.
Folic acid deficiency
Apart from anemia and birth defects, folic acid deficiency can result in:
- A higher risk of second heart attacks
- A higher risk of strokes. A study in the medical journal circulation reported that adding folic acid to foods contributes significantly to reducing stroke death by lowering homocysteine levels, an emerging risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- A higher risk of some cancers, such as stomach cancer
- A considerable drop in male sperm count, male fertility. One study found that folic acid may improve a man's chances of fathering a child.
- A higher risk of developing clinical depression
- Possible memory and mental agility problems
- Perhaps a higher risk of developing allergic diseases
- A higher long-term risk of lower bone density (hypothesis).
The Medical Journal of Australia wrote in January 2011 that the prevalence of folate deficiency in the country dropped considerably since the introduction of compulsory fortification of wheat flour used in bread-making.
Folic acid and pregnancy
This video below, by March of Dimes, talks about the importance of folic acid during pregnancy.