Also known as folic acid, folacin, vitamin B9, and pteroylglutamic acid, folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the name given to the synthetic form of folate. It was identified some 70 years ago as a substance that could prevent anemia during pregnancy. The name folate, as well as the other names associated with this vitamin (folacin and folic acid), suggests its food sources. Folium is Latin for foliage or forage. Folate was ultimately extracted from spinach leaves, and its chemical structure identified.
Helping the body make healthy new cells, folate plays an essential role in the creation of DNA and RNA. Folate is required for normal cellular growth because it has an indispensable role in DNA synthesis. It is is necessary for the production of normal red blood cells, the metabolism of homocysteine, the maintenance of amino acid levels, and the prevention of changes to DNA that could trigger the development of cancerous cells.
While everyone needs folate, it is especially important for women who may become pregnant. Adequate amounts of folate are required to prevent major birth defects in a baby’s brain and spinal cord. Since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that food companies add folate to enriched breads, cereals, flour, cornmeal, rice, and other grain products. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of babies born with neural tube defects.
Folate also helps maintain normal levels of the amino acid homocysteine. While homocysteine is needed in order to make proteins, elevated levels of homocysteine have been implicated in a wide variety of disease processes, from cardiovascular disease to cancer. Many of folic acid’s actions are well understood, and indications for its use are clear. An example of this is the anemia caused by low folate levels. In other disease states, the role of folic acid has not yet been proven.
What are the Recommended Dosages of Folic Acid?
The Food and Nutrition Board has issued the following Recommended Dietary Allowances for folate. Males and females 14 years and older should take in 400 mcg per day, while children between the ages of 9 and 13 years should take in 300 mcg per day. Children between the ages of four and eight years should take in 200 mcg per day, while children between the ages of one and three years should take in 150 mcg per day. The adequate intake level for children seven months to one year is 80 mcg, and the adequate intake level for infants up to six months is 65 mcg. There are also tolerable upper intake levels for folate. Males and females 19 years and older should not take in more than 1,000 mcg per day, while teens between the ages of 14 and 18 years should take in no more than 800 mcg per day. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 years should take in no more than 600 mcg per day, while children between the ages of 4 and 8 should take in no more than 400 mcg per day. Children between the ages of one and three years should take in no more than 300 mcg per day. No upper limits have been established for infants. All of the above recommendations assume that folic acid will be functionally the same as folate. There is some evidence that folic acid in the body cannot always be metabolized to an active folate form and may not be the best way to supplement folate. Because folic acid is not the form of folate in the body, some have suggested that 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) might be a better way to supplement folate. This is available as a dietary supplement.
What Foods in the Diet Contribute Folate?
As its name suggests, good food sources of folate include lentils, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, asparagus, avocados, leafy green vegetables, bananas, lemons, melons, peas, organ meats, mushrooms, tomato juice, orange juice, and enriched bread, cereals, pasta, and other grain-based foods. Folate supplements, which are generally referred to as folic acid, are available as a single-ingredient supplement, but folate is often combined with other B vitamins. In order to prevent birth defects, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are often advised take folate supplementation. Folate is commonly added to multivitamins for adults and children. The RDA for adults is 400 micrograms of folate daily. As the molecular structure of Folate is somewhat unstable when being heated so fresh or uncooked fruits or vegetables are considered to be better sources than cooked foods.
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Health Benefits of Folic Acid
Let us take a closer look on the health benefits served by Folic Acid:
- Must during pregnancy
Basically, Folate is involved in production of DNA and also reproduction of cells. At the periods of life when rapid growth occurs body demands for a high intake of folate. At the time of pregnancy, woman’s diet must incorporate extra folate to assist in the rapid reproduction of cells of the unborn infant and herself (for example, blood cells, and placenta). Most prenatal vitamin supplements include folate to help meet a pregnant woman’s increased needs.
- Brain function
Folate has a vital role in womb for normal development of brain. Individuals having low folate levels have strong correlations to symptoms of depression, cognitive decline and psychiatric conditions. It also affects the brain part which fosters memory or learning results poor brain function. These unfavorable effects could be assigned to protein homocysteine which has toxic or inflammatory effects of neurons in brain and contributes onset of dreaded neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Intake of folate is related with lowering oxidative damage to brain cells and promote brain performance when age and mild impairment is already evident.
- Influence mood
Dopamine and serotonin are two crucial neurotransmitters which control mood and motivation, and its levels could be altered due to mixture external and individual factors. This results in manifestation of depressive illness or loss of motivation & pleasure with life. It is caused due to low level of folate as it involves in synthesis of both dopamine and serotonin. Increase in consumption of folate not only promotes production but stimulates serotonin receptors in brain also and boost action of medication for treating depression.
- Slows down aging
To preserve activity of mental faculties is essential for slowing down premature aging but folate is much better. It lowers oxidative stress in the body that brings rapid aging. In fact, humans are disclosed to various circumstances and studies confirm that is it is challenging but it shows beneficial effects that contributes overall health.
- Cancer prevention
Onset of cancer is triggered when single cell begins to grow continuously. Damage to DNA leads defects in gene expression resulting abnormal mutations of cells. Generally mutations are harmless but when a mutation occurs it is significant to start cascade towards cancer. It does not have control over cancerous changes that have occurred already.
- Liver health
Liver eliminates various toxins on regular basis and this process might damage liver. In alcoholics, the effect is worsened when oxidative damage increases with depleting levels of antioxidants such as methionine and glutathione. Folate helps to maintain the health of these antioxidants by promoting liver detoxification and also counteracting harmful effect on liver.
- Kidney health
Kidney problems lead to kidney failure and become hard to manage even with the use of medication. Studies revealed that consumption of folate with popular treatments of kidney disease slows progression of disease and lowers manifestations on organs such as heart.
- Stronger bones
Folate is vital for maintaining bone health along with calcium, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin D. Its deficiency has shown the link in decreasing bone density and promoting the chances of fractures. Folate suppresses resorption of bones when consumed in combination with bone friendly diet. As people ages T-cell function lowers and this results in weak immunity. Its deficiency worsens immune suppression. It also contains antioxidant properties that lower strain on immune system.
- Enhance fertility
Fertility problems are difficult to get treated in both genders. The consumption of folate in women is related with promoting fertilization rates; improve release of eggs from ovaries and increases chances of carrying baby in women predisposed to miscarriages. In men, consumption of folate with zinc results in increase of more than 70% to sperm density per ml of semen. It lowers the ratio of abnormally shaped sperm and also likelihood of congenital defect occurring.
- Healthy heart
Heat problems are complicated disorder which consists of various factors and variables playing different role on development. One is inflated levels of protein called homocysteine that makes blood vessels inflexible and resistance to change. It worsens hypertension and increases the chances of coronary artery disease and strokes. Folate is turned into metabolite tetrahydrofolate which breaks down homocysteine into favorable protein methionine. Moreover, methionine promotes heart health.
What Happens If Too Little Folate Is Consumed?
It is generally believed that most adults and children in the United States take in adequate amounts of folate. However, there are some groups that are at increased risk for deficiency, including women of childbearing age and non-Hispanic black women. One of the medical problems associated with folate deficiency is a condition known as megaloblastic anemia, which is characterized by weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headache, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms associated with folate deficiency include soreness and shallow ulcerations on the tongue and in the mouth, changes in skin, hair, and fingernail pigmentation, and elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood. In addition to increasing the risk of neural tube defects, women of childbearing age who have insufficient levels of folate have a higher rate of babies born with lower birth weights, preterm deliveries, and fetal growth retardation.
Can Folate Be Toxic?
It is considered impossible to consume excess amounts of folate from food. Still, in the United States, people over the age of 50 who consume lots of folate fortified foods and folate supplements may take in too much folate. Signs and symptoms of excessive folate intake include digestive problems, nausea, loss of appetite, bloating, gas, a bitter taste in the mouth, depression, sleep problems, excessive excitability, irritability, and zinc deficiency. More serious signs of excessive levels of folate include psychotic behavior, numbness, tingling, mouth pain, weakness, and problems with concentration, confusion, fatigue, and seizures.