By Karen Appold
March 4, 2013 – Folic acid, a form of the water-soluble vitamin B9, plays a role in almost every bodily function. The term “water soluble” refers to the fact that it dissolves in water. Folic acid, also known as folate, is carried through the blood stream and exits the body through urination. You have to consume folic acid every day because your body doesn’t store it.
Some specific roles in which folic acid plays a part include:
- making healthy red blood cells
- producing proteins
- making deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA)
- repairing DNA
- avoiding tumor growth, genetic disorders and cell mutations
- reducing high levels of homocysteine, which can lead to increased risk for stroke or heart attack
- enhancing brain health
The daily recommended allowances for folate as a nutrition supplement are as follows:
- Adults and children 12 years and older: 200 micrograms (?g)
- Women contemplating pregnancy: 200 ?g plus a folic acid supplement containing 400 ?g
- Women who are pregnant: 300 ?g, plus a 400 ?g supplement during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy
- Women who are breastfeeding: 260 ?g
You are more likely to be deficient in folic acid if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or experience excessive loss of this vitamin. This might occur due to alcoholism; using certain medications, such as diuretics; having celiac disease that goes untreated; or having Crohn’s disease.
If you are deficient in folic acid, you may have symptoms of anemia, such as tiredness or fatigue. You might also experience lack of appetite, diarrhea, headaches, weight loss and behavioral problems.
Having adequate levels of folate can help to prevent a miscarriage. If you are pregnant and deficient in folic acid, you increase risk for birth defects in the infant’s spine or brain, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Foods high in folic acid
The word “folate” is actually derived from the word “foliage.” Folic acid is naturally found in green leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, spinach, broccoli), asparagus, beans, fruits, meats (e.g., beef liver and kidney), as well as tomato and orange juices. Because folic acid is water-soluble, vegetables can lose their vitamins when boiled. Steaming or microwaving them is preferred.
Folate is often added to such foods as breads, cereals, flour, pasta, crackers and cookies, as required by a federal law established in 1998.
If you are not getting an adequate amount of folic acid in your diet, be sure to take a daily nutrition supplement.
Karen Appold is a medical writer in Royersford, PA.