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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Folic Acid: Some Facts And Functions


Folic acid, a water-soluble B vitamin, occurs naturally in food and can also be taken as a nutritional supplement. Naturally occurring sources of folic acid includes green leaf vegetables (spinach, turnip), poultry, pork, shellfish, peas beans, liver, cereal and citrus fruits. Folic acid is one of the necessary elements required for production and maintenance of healthy human cells.

Folic acid deficiency may cause various disorders. Some of these are highlighted below.

Folic acid deficiency may cause weakness, poor growth, graying hair, inflammation of the tongue, palpitations and behavioral disorder.
Folic acid deficiency is also associated with common stomach disorders including diarrhea, mouth ulcer and peptic ulcer, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Folic acid deficiency in pregnant women may cause premature delivery, low birth weight of infants and infants with neural tube defects (more on this below).
Anemia is sometimes associated with an advanced stage of folic acid deficiency.
You may need increased folic acid intake if you are anemic, have kidney or liver disease, are pregnant or are breast-feeding. In all such cases you should consult your doctor before taking folic acid supplements.

Furthermore, some additional precautions and contraindications need to be considered before proceeding with folic acid supplementation:

The maximum folic acid intake should be limited to 1000 micrograms per day or as directed by one's health care provider.
Different medications may interact with folic acid including medicines for epilepsy, prescriptions for controlling blood sugar, methotrexate (a medicine for treating cancer) and diuretics. If you are taking any of these medicines, you should first contact your doctor about safety issues of taking these in combination with folic acid.
If you are 50 years of age, you should carry out any vitamin B12 protocols before supplementing your diet with folic acid, as there are chances of some undesirable interactions between B12 vitamins and folic acid.

Folic Acid During Pregnancy:

Neural tube defects (NTDs) are major defects of the brain and spine in babies which cause damage to these primary nervous system components. The major NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly. Anencephaly is a usually fatal condition in which parts of brain, skull bones and scalp do not form in babies. Most of the babies having these defects die before or just after birth. Spina bifida is a spinal disorder in which part of spine at the lower end is damaged and a sack of fluid is entrapped in the baby’s back. Most children born with this spinal disorder survive through birth and can lead a full life, but they often have lifelong symptoms including an inability to move the lower part of the body, loss of bowl and bladder control and sometimes excessive fluid pressure to the brain (hydrocephalus).

A woman is likely to be at higher risk to deliver a NTDs-affected baby if she has a previous NTDs-affected pregnancy, is diabetic, takes medicine to treat epilepsy and/or is of Hispanic ethnicity.

Up to 70% of NTDs can be prevented by taking enough folic acid every day before conception and during pregnancy.

Unless otherwise contraindicated, every woman who is likely to become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Consuming supplemental folic acid in addition to a healthy folic acid rich diet before and during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of having neural tube defects in babies.

Folic Acid and Heart Disease:

A low concentration of folic acid may increase the amino acid homocysteine in the blood levels and consequently increase the risk of heart disease. Sufficient data exists to indicate that a high level of homocysteine may damage the coronary arteries or can possibly cause blood clots; however, there is not yet sufficient evidence that supplemented folic acid will reduce the risk of heart disease.

Folic Acid and Cancer

Folic acid is one of the essential elements involved in the synthesis of DNA, and thus its deficiency may cause defects in DNA and consequently may lead to cancer. There is enough evidence to conclude that the deficiency of folic acid is associated with the increased risk of breast, colon and pancreatic cancers. Unfortunately, much as with folic acid's role in potential heart disease mitigation, it is not yet advisable to supplement folic acid for reducing the risk of such cancers until more research is completed demonstrating its actual efficacy.

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