Folic acid (folate) is a water-soluble vitamin that is abundant in leafy green vegetables and other plant food. It is not present to any measureable degree in animal products. Lack of folic acid could lead to major health problems. So, you should try to eat lots of leafy greens and other foods that are high in folic acid everyday. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin found in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form that is added to food and used in supplements.
Functions of Folic Acid
Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis, which takes place as cells multiply. It plays a powerful role in the development of the spine and other tissues during the early part of pregnancy. This is the point at which the cells are dividing rapidly; the need for folic acid is greatest at this time. Folic acid is also for the production of healthy red blood cells.
Folic Acid Deficiency: Causes
Folic acid deficiency can occur as a result of several conditions, including:
- Poor dietary intake. People who eat a lot of highly processed foods and relatively few leafy vegetables or other foods that are high in folic acid are most prone to folic acid deficiency.
- Pregnancy. The demand for folic acid is increased greatly during pregnancy. If the diet of the mother is low in folic acid, growth of the spinal column could be disrupted, resulting in serious birth defects. The mother's health could also be seriously affected.
- Weight loss surgery or any other type of surgery that results in the removal of parts of the stomach or intestine could interfere with folic acid absorption, leading to a folic acid deficiency.
- Other malabsorption problems like celiac disease and other conditions that lead to poor absorption.
Folic Acid Deficiency: Symptoms
Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include anemia, nerve damage, tingling sensation or numbness in the arms and legs, fatigue, weakness, poor motor function and lack of balance. Other symptoms include memory loss, dementia, megaloblastic anemia, loss of appetite, and constipation. Medications can also interfere with the way folic acid is used in the body. A deficiency during pregnancy can lead to a condition called neural tube defect. Malabsorption due to disease or surgery of the stomach and parts of the intestine could result in a folic acid deficiency.
Prevention and Treatment of Folic Acid Deficiency
Folic acid supplements are usually prescribed for pregnant women beginning early in the pregnancy in order to avoid the problems associated with folic acid deficiency.
Food Sources of Folic Acid
You can get folic acid mostly from plant foods. Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peas, legumes, orange juice and tomato juice are natural sources of folate. Other foods are fortified with the synthetic form of the vitamin. Folic acid occurs naturally in few animal products. Those animal sources include beef liver and eggs. Folic acid is available as a supplement for people who do not get enough from their diet. It is usually prescribed for pregnant women beginning early in the pregnancy.
Folic Acid Requirements
The RDA for folic acid is 400 micrograms for children ages 14 to 18 and for adults 19 years of age and over. The RDAs for children range from 150 to 300. There is a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to set standards for infants under the age of one, according to the National Research Council the group that sets the standards.