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What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9 or folate. It is an essential vitamin that is necessary for nearly every type of body function. Folic acid is used to make red blood cells, and they also partner with other vitamins to catalyze your cell metabolism and the production proteins. Making and repairing your DNA also requires folate. An adequate supply of folate is critical to avoid cell mutation, tumor growth and genetic disorders. Folate is more active in cells that are fast to grow and reproduce. An example of this is your blood. Your body does not make folic acid on its own so you have to get it either through food or nutritional supplements. It is crucial that you acquire enough of these vitamins for your body to function properly.

Dietary Requirement of Folic Acid

Taking enough folate through your diet is essential for everyone and is especially important for women during their reproductive years. It is recommended that all adults ages 14 and above take a minimum of 400 mcg of folate per day through diet. Women who are planning to become pregnant should take an additional 400 mcg through supplements. This extra dosage should be continued throughout pregnancy and lactation.

Since folate is water-soluble, excess folate is excreted through urine. Therefore, no upper limit has been set on this vitamin. 

Foods High In Folate

The best way to prevent folic acid deficiency is by regularly consuming foods that are rich in folate. Folic acid is found in almost every food group. Certain foods, like dark leafy vegetables, citrus, beans and legumes, whole grains, red meats and shellfish, are loaded with this vitamin. You can also find high folate content in fortified cereals and juices. 

Medical Consequences of Inadequate Folate Intake

The primary cause of folic acid deficiency is malnutrition, but the instances of this condition are rare. Certain groups of people, like pregnant women, alcoholics and the elderly, are at higher risks for folate deficiency. This triggers a variety of symptoms like diarrhea, ulcers, memory loss and a swollen tongue.

In severe cases of folic acid deficiency, serious health consequences can occur.

  • Anemia: You need folic acid to make healthy red blood cells. If you don't supply your body with enough folate, your red blood cells can become abnormally large and deformed. Deformed red blood cells have reduced oxygen carrying capability and a shorter lifespan. When this occurs, you can exhibit symptoms like fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. 
  • Birth defect: Fetal development depends heavily on the availability of folic acid. Studies have shown that babies born to women who are not adequately supplied with folate are highly likely to develop severe birth defects like spina bifida. Because neural development of the fetus occurs within the first 28 days of pregnancy, women should start their folate supplementation during their planning stage.
  • Stunted Neonatal Growth: Babies get their supply of folate through their mother's milk. If not enough folate is passed into breast milk, babies can be severely hindered in growth and development. Irreversible disabilities can occur if mothers do not take enough folate during lactation.

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