Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid or folate, is a key participant in almost every biochemical process in your body. You need this vitamin to break down food and convert macronutrients, like carbohydrate, fat and protein into energy. You also need it to synthesize normal red blood cells, regulate hormones and ensure faithful replication and synthesis of DNA and RNA. For most people, a balanced diet consisting of all food categories is enough to meet the daily 400 micrograms requirement of folate. Foods like dark green vegetables, beans and legumes, animal liver, sunflower seeds, citrus fruits and juices and fortified cereals are excellent dietary sources of this vitamin and can deliver your total daily requirement in just one serving.
There are special instances when extra folate may be required. Pregnancy or lactating mothers need additional folate to support the fast growth rate of their infants. People who are taking anti-folate medications or cannot efficiently extract and absorb dietary folate may also need extra folate supplementation to prevent the risk of deficiency. The following are the five health consequence of folate deficiency.
1. Megatoblastic Anemia
Megatoblastic anemia is the number one adversity caused by folic acid deficiency. Inadequate supply of folate impedes the production of normal red blood cells (RBC), causing structural and functions defects. Folate deficiency causes your RBC to become abnormally large and weak. Their lifespan is also much shorter than normal RBC. If you exhibit symptoms like chronic fatigue, ashen facial color, dizziness and fainting, you may be suffering from megatoblastic anemia due to insufficient folate.
2. Preterm Labor
Women who do not take extra folate supplementation during pregnancy are at high risk of preterm labor. Folate helps to remove homocysteines in your blood. Without enough folate, your blood homocysteine concentration increases, causing serious pregnancy complications, which may induce spontaneous abortion.
3. Prenatal and Neonatal Birth Defects
Your baby will suffer irreversible damages if you do not take enough folate during pregnancy and lactation. Folate is a controlling factor in the neurological development of the growing fetus. Babies born to folate deficient mothers are extremely likely to develop severe neural defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. They are also at high risks of congenital heart and limb disorders and mental retardation. Breast-feeding mothers also need extra folate supplementation. Folate deficiency in newborns can stunt the baby's growth rate and impair his or her brain development.
4. Stress Related Disorders
The blood concentration of homocysteines also affects your body's response to stress. High levels of homocysteines inhibits the production and release of your anti-stress hormones and increases your risks of stress related disorders like depression, anxiety and insomnia. This is why it is especially important for postmenopausal women to eat plenty of folate-rich food or take an extra daily supplement to prevent PMS syndromes.
Folate acid deficiency can also raise the error rate in gene transcription and replication. Cell mutation and tumor growth is more likely to occur when you cannot accurately copy and make new DNA and RNA. Infantile folate deficiency is a strong contributing factor of childhood leukemia. Deficiency in adults can lead to higher occurrence of gastric, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.