Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folic acid or folate, is one of the most important nutrients you need to include in your diet. Folate is required to carry out all processes of cell metabolism and division. It also helps to breakdown carbohydrates, fat and proteins into energy and ensures faithful synthesis of your DNA and RNA. Folate demand is high wherever cell growth and reproduction occur rapidly. Sufficient amounts of folate must be present for normal red blood cell production and proper blood oxygenation. Folate deficiency can also lead to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, loss of bone mass and other developmental disorders.
Because folate is widely available in food, deficiency of this vitamin is not a common occurrence for the general population. Having a balanced diet that includes all food groups is the best way to prevent folate deficiency. Folate is especially rich in foods like dark green vegetables, beans and legumes, citrus fruits and fortified juices and cereals. Frequent incorporation of these foods in your meal plans saves you the need to take extra supplementation.
Take Folate Supplements Before, During and After Pregnancy
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of folate is 400 milligrams for most adults except in special situations when the body’s demand for folate increases. The most notable example of this is pregnancy. An additional 400 milligrams of folate are required for women from the planning stage of pregnancy to the end of lactation.
Cell reproduction is the fastest in a developing fetus. The baby’s neural tube takes shape within the first 28 days of pregnancy, long before any sign shows up. Sufficient folate must be provided during this period to ensure the proper development of your baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord and prevent irreversible neural damage and birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. This is why it's a good idea to start taking extra folate before conception. An additional noteworthy point is that men who are planning for fatherhood can also benefit from folate supplementation. Studies have shown that extra folate can increase male fertility and reduce chromosomal defects in sperms.
Folate supplementation needs to continue throughout pregnancy, the lack of which significantly heightens your chance of preterm labor and abnormal fetal development. Babies born to mothers who do not take extra folate during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from low birth weight, cleft lips, congenital heart and limb defects and mental retardation. Extra folate is also necessary for nursing mothers. Folate is delivered to your newborn through breast milk. Insufficient folate provision can stunt a baby’s growth and increase the potential for childhood leukemia.
Extra Folate Accelerates Recovery after Blood Loss
The other instance for additional folate requirement is when you need to replenish your blood. Extra folate promotes red blood cell production and increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood. This is why drinking a glass of orange juice after you give blood can reduce possible side effects like dizziness and fainting. You should take a supplementary dose of folate to help speed up your recovery after blood donation, surgery or any other case of severe blood loss.