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Folate, Anemia and Folic Acid

January 27, 2013

Folate SourcesFolate is a water-soluble B vitamin (B9). Folate is needed for the proper development of the human body, and the production of healthy new cells. It is involved in producing the genetic material called DNA and in numerous other bodily functions. Children and adults both require folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.

 Foods that are naturally high in folate include leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons) beans, yeast, mushrooms, meat (such as liver and kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice. Since 1998, folic acid (synthetic folate) has been added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, as required by federal law [in the US]. 

A complete lack of dietary folate takes months before deficiency develops as normal individuals have about 500–20,000 µg of folate in body stores. The folate deficiency can result in many health problems.

Common symptoms of folate deficiency include diarrhea or obstipation, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness,  sore or swollen tongue, loss of appetite, headaches, heart palpitations, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive declines, mental depression, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Low levels of folate can also lead to homocysteine accumulation. DNA synthesis and repair are impaired and this could lead to cancer development.

Folic acid is used as a supplement for preventing and treating low blood levels of folate (folate deficiency), as well as its complications, infolate cluding [anemic fatigue] and the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients properly. Folic acid is also used for other conditions commonly associated with folic acid deficiency, including ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism, and kidney dialysis. Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent miscarriage and “neural tube defects,” birth defects such as spina bifida.

Some people use folic acid to prevent colon cancer or cervical cancer. It is also used to prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as to reduce blood levels of a chemical called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels might be a risk for heart disease.

Folic acid is likely safe for most people. Most adults do not experience any side effects when consuming the recommended amount each day, which is 400 mcg. Folic acid is often used in combination with other B vitamins. There is a complex interaction between folic acid, vitamin B12 and iron. A deficiency of one may be “masked” by excess of another so the three must be in balance.


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