What Is Folic Acid?
(Also Folate, vitamin B9) Folic acid is a man-made form of a B vitamin called folate. Folate plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby’s neural tube develop into her brain and spinal cord. The best food sources of folic acid are fortified cereals. Folate is found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits.
Folic Acid in pregnancy
Folic acid is a form of folate (a B vitamin) that everyone needs. If you can get pregnant or are pregnant, folic acid is especially important. Folic acid protects unborn babies against serious birth defects. You can get folic acid from vitamins and fortified foods, such as breads, pastas and cereals. Folate is found naturally in foods such as leafy green vegetables, oranges, and beans.
Why we need Folic Acid?
Everyone needs folic acid to be healthy. But it is especially important for women:
- Folic acid protects unborn children against serious birth defects called neural tube defects. These birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Folic acid might also help prevent other types of birth defects and early pregnancy loss (miscarriage). Experts recommend all women get enough folic acid even if you are not trying to get pregnant.
- To keep the blood healthy by helping red blood cells form and grow. Not getting enough folic acid can lead to a type of anemia called folate-deficiency anemia. Folate-deficiency anemia is more common in women of child bearing age than in men.
How do get Folic Acid?
You can get folic acid in two ways.
- Through the foods you eat. Folate is found naturally in some foods, including spinach, nuts, and beans. Folic acid is found in fortified foods (called “enriched foods”), such as breads, pastas, and cereals. Look for the term “enriched” on the ingredients list to find out whether the food has added folic acid.
- As a vitamin.Most multivitamins sold contain 400 micrograms, or 100% of the daily value, of folic acid.
What is folate-deficiency anemia?
Folate-deficiency anemia is a type of anemia that happens when you do not get enough folate. Folate-deficiency anemia is most common during pregnancy. Other causes of folate-deficiency anemia include alcoholism and certain medicines to treat seizures, anxiety, or arthritis.
The symptoms of folate-deficiency anemia include:
- Pale skin
- Sore mouth and tongue
If you have folate-deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend taking folic acid vitamins and eating more foods with folate.
Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid
Vitamin B12 and folic acid (also folate, vitamin B9) are very closely connected in the metabolism.
Vitamin B12 and folate are two vitamins that are part of the B complex of vitamins. They are necessary for normal red blood cell (RBC) formation, repair of tissues and cells, and synthesis of DNA, the genetic material in cells. Both are nutrients that cannot be produced in the body and must be supplied by the diet.
Folate refers to a natural occurring form of the vitamin, whereas folic acid refers to the supplement added to foods and drinks. It is found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, dry beans and peas, liver, and yeast. Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is found in foods from animals, such as red meat, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt, and eggs. In recent years, fortified cereals, breads, and other grain products have also become important dietary sources of B12 and folate (identified as “folic acid” on nutritional labels).
A deficiency in either B12 or folate can lead to macrocytic anemia, where red blood cells are larger than normal. Megaloblastic anemia, a type of macrocytic anemia, is characterized by the production of fewer but larger RBCs called macrocytes, in addition to some cellular changes in the bone marrow. Other laboratory findings associated with megaloblastic anemia include decreased white blood cell (WBC) count and platelet count.
Folic Acid Test
A folic acid test measures the amount of folic acid in the blood. If you aren’t consuming enough folic acid, you may develop a folic acid deficiency. While mild folic acid deficiency usually doesn’t trigger symptoms, severe folic acid deficiency can cause diarrhea, fatigue, and a sore tongue. The deficiency may also lead to a more serious condition known as anemia, which is caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells. Since folic acid levels can be measured in the bloodstream, a folic acid test can determine whether someone has folic acid deficiency.
The normal reference range of folic acid in the blood is between 2.7 and 17.0 ng/mL. Higher-than-normal folic acid levels usually aren’t problematic, but they may indicate a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Your body needs vitamin B-12 to use folic acid properly, so if vitamin B-12 levels are low, folic acid can’t be used. Your doctor may refer further testing to make sure elevated folic acid levels aren’t being caused by vitamin B-12 deficiency.
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