Information and Facts
Folic acid, also known as folate, is an important member of the water-soluble B-group vitamins. It received its name from the Latin word folium, meaning ‘foliage’, because it is found in nature’s leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale and beet greens.
Folic Acid carries out a variety of functions in the human body from assisting in the formation of nucleic acid, essential for growth and reproduction, to stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
Despite the wide occurrence of Folic Acid in food, it is still the most common vitamin deficiency in the world. In addition to a dietary lack, alcohol and prescription drugs, like oestrogens, impair Folic Acid metabolism. In Folic Acid deficiency all parts of the body are affected, particularly the rapidly dividing cells like red blood cells and cells of the gastrointestinal and genital tract. This results in retarded growth, diarrhoea, anaemia, gingivitis, and abnormal smears in women. Macrocytic anaemia as a result of folic acid deficiency is characterised by enlarged red blood cells. Other symptoms include depression, insomnia, irritability, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, fatigue and shortness of breath.
Since Folic Acid is important to the division of cells in the body, it is even more essential during times of growth, such as pregnancy where rapid cell multiplication takes place. If there is a deficiency of folic acid at this time, the result is decreased nucleic acid synthesis (for RNA and DNA) and interrupted cell division. Folic acid is essential for the development of the foetal spinal cord and nervous system.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, one of the biggest fears for a parent comes from the threat of congenital defects, such as spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spine), hydrocephaly and impaired brain development. Statistically neural tube defects occur in approximately one to two of every 1000 live births.
Researchers from the University of Otago recommend the use of Folic Acid in pregnancy, used both several weeks before conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy. Supplementation with Folic Acid has been associated with a massive 70% reduction in neural tube defects. Wise supplementation with Folic Acid can lower the risks.
The average RDI for pregnancy of Folic Acid is approximately 800 – 1200 mcgs (Obstetricians can recommended that high-risk women should receive up to 5mg of folic acid).
NB: The Ministry of Health restricts the amount of folic acid available in nutritional supplements to 300mcg.
Folic Acid (vitamin Bc) Chemical structure, C19H19N7O6
- involved in the formation of new cells
- involved in the metabolism of ribonucleic acids (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA), essential for protein synthesis, formation of blood and transmission of genetic code
- essential during pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (birth defects affecting the brain and/or spinal cord)essential for the normal growth and development of the fetus
- involved in the biosynthesis of purines, serines and glycine
- involved in some functions associated with Vitamin B12
- necessary for building resistance to diseases in the thymus gland of new born babies and infants
- may reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia
- necessary for red blood cell production
- Brewers’s Yeast
- citrus fruits, peeled – oranges
- fatty fish
- fresh nuts
- green leafy vegetables
- meats, especially pig liver and kidney
- pulses, such as lentils
- roasted nuts
- soy products, such as tofu
- unpolished brown rice
- wheat germ
- wheat bran
- wheat grains
- Pantothenic Acid
- Vitamin C
INCREASED INTAKES NEEDED
- by alcohol drinkers
- by the elderly
- during pregnancy and breastfeeding
- if taking contraceptive pill
- if taking the drugs, Aspirin, Cholestyramine, Isethionate, Isoniazid, Methotrexate, Pentamidime, Phenytoin (may be neutralized), Primidone, Pyrimethamine, Triamterene, Trimethoprim
- malabsorption in geriatric patients
- megaloblastic anemia
- mental deterioration
- spinal defects
- blood formations
- body cell reproduction
- brain and nervous function
- leached into cooking water
- processing and cooking of vegetables, fruits and dairy products
- unstable to oxygen at high temperatures but protected by Vitamin C
SYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCY
DEFICIENCY LEADS TO
Various conditions relating to childbirth:
- birth defects, such as neural tube defect which causes spina bifida
- hemorrhage following birth
- premature birth
- premature separation of the placenta from the uterus
As well as:
- megaloblastic anemia (red blood cells are large and uneven with a shortened life span)
- mild mental symptoms, such as forgetfulness and confusion
SYMPTOMS OF TOXICITY
Folic Acid has a low toxicity but occasionally the following symptoms occur:
- abdominal distension
- flatulence (gas/wind)
- loss of appetite
- sleep disturbance
*Long term high dose may cause Vitamin B12 losses from the body