Folic Acid: Importance, Sources, Functions, and Dietary Recommendations

Maira Ahsan B Vitamins Folate Folic Acid Healthy Pregnancy Pregnancy Vitamin B Vitamin B12 Vitamin B9

Introduction:

Folic acid, generally known as vitamin B9, is a dietary supplement that has been related to several important physiological activities, including red blood cell production, RNA and DNA synthesis and repair, and important stages of embryonic development. It is essential for women who are planning to become pregnant or who are already pregnant. Folic acid protects infants in utero from significant neural tube abnormalities (NTDs), such as Spina bifida and anencephaly, which impair the baby's spinal cord and brain. These abnormalities appear early in pregnancy, frequently before women are even aware that they are expecting.

Importance of Folic acid in the diet

The terms folic acid and folate both refer to a type of B vitamin (vitamin B9). Folate is a B vitamin that can be found in a variety of foods, including green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes. Folic acid is a synthetic (man-made) form of folate. It can be found in supplements and foods that have been fortified. Folic acid dissolves in water and excessive levels of the folic acid is excreted in the urine. This signifies that folic acid is not stored in your body. You must consume the vitamin regularly, either through diet or supplementation.

Sources of Folic Acid:

Pregnant women should eat a balanced diet  that is high in folate-rich foods. A Folate is a synthetic form of folic acid that has the same health benefits as folic acid. The following foods are naturally high in folate:

  • Leafy greens, spinach, and romaine lettuce
  • Beans (lentils, pinto, black) and peas
  • Nuts
  • Poultry, and meat (chicken, turkey, etc.)
  • Whole grains and fortified meals such as (bread, pasta, white rice, and cereal)
  • Corn masa flour is used to make tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, tamales, and pupusas.
  • Cornmeal
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges and orange juice

There are also various folic acid-fortified supplements in the market. Women should avoid a high amount of folic acid intake in their diets, even if they are taking a prenatal multivitamin. Taking more isn't necessary, and it doesn't bring any value. The maximum amount of folic acid that can be consumed in a day is 1000 micrograms (mcg). This limit is based on the amount of folic acid found in supplements and fortified foods. 

Functions of Folic Acid:

Folate performs different functions in the human body, including:

  • Helps in the growth and function of tissues and cells.
  • Helps the body break down, utilize, and generate new proteins by combining vitamin B12 and vitamin C.
  • It helps in the formation of red blood cells (helps prevent anemia)
  • Helps in the production of DNA, the genetic information-carrying building block of the human body.

Deficiency of Folic Acid:

Folate is involved in several important metabolic processes, and a deficiency of folate may lead to a variety of health problems, including megaloblastic anemia, an increased risk of heart disease and some malignancies, and birth abnormalities in babies whose mothers were folate deficient.

Folate deficiency can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Gray hair, or a change in color of the skin and fingernails
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Poor growth
  • Swollen tongue (glossitis), and sores in the mouth
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Irritability, headache, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath

It may also lead to certain types of anemias. It's very difficult to get enough folate from meals, pregnant women's should take folic acid supplements. Preventing neural tube problems, such as Spina bifida, begins with getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy. Higher folic acid doses before conception and during the first trimester may reduce the risk of miscarriage. Folic acid supplements can also help with menstrual issues and leg ulcers if you don't get enough folate in your diet.

When should you Start Taking Folic Acid?

Within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, birth abnormalities can occur. Folate plays an essential role in your reproductive system during the early stages of your baby's brain and spinal cord development. If you talked to your doctor when you were trying to conceive, they undoubtedly recommended that you start taking a folic acid-fortified prenatal vitamin. According to one study, women who took folic acid for at least a year before becoming pregnant reduced their risk of giving birth prematurely by 50% or more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking folic acid every day for at least a month before becoming pregnant and every day during your pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of reproductive age take folic acid every day. If you choose your prenatal vitamin, be sure it contains the necessary levels of everything you need, including folic acid, by taking it to your OB once you're pregnant. Prenatal vitamins are not made equal, and some may use small or more vitamins and minerals than others.

Recommended Daily Allowance:

Eating a wide variety of meals is the best approach to meet your daily vitamin requirements. Spina bifida and anencephaly are two birth abnormalities that can be prevented with folic acid. In addition to the folic acid present in fortified foods, women of reproductive age should take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day. Women who are pregnant should take 600 micrograms per day, or 1000 micrograms per day if they are expecting twins. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins specifies how much of each vitamin the average person should consume each day. Here is the recommended daily allowance of folic acid:

Age

Recommended Dietary Allowance

0–6 months

65 mcg DFE

7–12 months

80 mcg DFE

1–3 years

150 mcg DFE

4–8 years

200 mcg DFE

9–13 years

300 mcg DFE

14–18 years

400 mcg DFE

19+ years

400 mcg DFE

 

Side-Effects of Folic Acid:

Taking too much folic acid has no significant bad or negative affects. People may get stomach pains in very unusual circumstances. There is no need to worry if a person consumes more folate. As folic acid is water-soluble, so any excess amount of folic acid will pass through the urine.

Conclusion:

The synthetic form of folate, an important B vitamin, is folic acid. Most people get enough folate from their diets, but those at risk of deficiency and women who may become pregnant should take folic acid supplement. Folic acid is required for cell growth, particular biochemical activities in the body, such as the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, and the metabolism of anticonvulsant medicines. In general, it seems that a higher intake of folate would benefit both men and women. When there is compliance, this can be performed through vitamin supplementation. However, if dietary fortification for folate is increased in the future, vitamin supplementation will need to be reconsidered.

References:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11252849/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23193625/

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/pregnancy/folic-acid.html#a6

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/folic-acid

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19027414/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9587705/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9760860/

 

 

 

 

 



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