Folic acid occurs in food in two forms: free folates and bound folates. The total folates represent both the groups. In man free folate is rapidly absorbed, primarily from the proximal part of small intestine. The availability of bound folated is uncertain.
Liver, kidney, green-leafy vegetables and cauliflower are good sources of this vitamin. Overcooking destroys much of folic acid and thus contributes to folate deficiency in man. Folate deficiency has been reported in babies given milk foods subjected to heat sterilization.
Benefits of folic acid
Folinic acid acts as a coenzyme in the transfer of formyl and hydroxymethyl groups in different biological systems (e.g. in the biosynthesis of purine, synthesis of methyl group of methionin, etc.) and in the carbon metabolism.
It is indispensable for the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acids in the nuclei of the cells.
Takes part in the formation and maturation of the red cells. Along with vitamin B 12 it helps in the synthesis of nucleic acid. Deficiency causes disturbances in the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and metabolism of the nucleated red cells resulting in megaloblastic and macrocytic anaemia.
It is used in the treatment of the megaloblastic anaemia.
Folic acid helps to eliminate Homocysteine, a blood toxin known to affect heart muscle and influences cholesterol to deposit in heart muscle. Its use is known to help prevent stroke and heart attack. Increased homocysteine levels result in weak bones leading to fractures
Folic acid also helps in digestion, and the nervous system, and helps in improving mental as well as emotional health. This nutrient may be effective in treating depression and anxiety.
Deficiency symptoms of folic acid
Folate deficiency may occur simply from a poor diet. It is commonly found in pregnancy and lactation where requirements are increased.
Deficiency of folic acid causes megaloblastic anemia especially during pregnancy. It also results in glossitis, chelosis and gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea, distension and flatulence.
Severe folate deficiency may cause infertility or even sterility.
There is also evidence that the administration of folic acid antagonists in early pregnancy may produce abortions or congenital malformations.
A deficiency of folic acid on an unborn baby may increase the risk of the baby being born with spinal bifida and other serious defects of the nervous system.
Deficiency of folic acid, may result in fatigue, acne, a sore tongue, cracking at the corners of mouth
Long-term deficiency may result in anemia and later in osteoporosis, as well as cancer of the bowel and cervix
It also causes arrested growth, anaemia, leucopenia and agranulocytosis.
When more is needed
Pregnant women are sometimes advised to take a small supplement of folic acid to help prevent spinal bifida and other congenial nervous disorders, and may also help to decrease the risk of toxemia in pregnancy, premature labor and hemorrhage. It is also believed to increase the production of milk after delivery.
People who suffers from psoriasis are also advised to take extra folic acid, people under stress or anyone consuming alcohol are also advised take extra folic acid.
Women on birth control pills or busy with hormone replacement therapy may benefit from folic acid, as well as children if they are on goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
Symptoms of high intake
Anybody on medication for epilepsy should be careful with large amounts of folic acid, since it can change the functioning of such drugs.
Too much folic acid may mask a deficiency. Regular high intake of folic acid may cause digestive upset, energy loss and insomnia.
High doses of Vitamin B9 (more than 15-mg) may cause stomach, sleep, and skin disorders, and can cause seizures in persons with convulsive disorders.
Body stores of folate are not large, about 5-10 mg, and therefore folate deficiency can develop quickly.
Folic acid requirements are greatest in conditions where there is rapid cell multiplication such as during growth in young children and during pregnancy. Folic acid supplementation during pregnancy has been found to increase the birth weight of infants and decrease the incidence of low birth weight babies. Intake values are given below:
- Healthy adults 100 mcg/ per day
- Pregnancy 400 mcg
- Lactation 150 mcg
- Children 100 mcg.