Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, plays a vital role in the formation and repair of DNA. It is also essential for the conversion of amino acid homocysteine (the build-up of which is harmful) to another amino acid, methionine. The folic acid form of vitamin B9 is better absorbed by the body. People with certain genetic types need more vitamin B9 in their diet due to insufficient absorption of the natural form of folate by the body.
Folate plays numerous essential roles in the body. It plays a role in:
- DNA and RNA synthesis
- Amino acid (the building blocks of protein) metabolism
- Conversion of homocysteine to methionine – this breakdown of homocysteine prevents the build-up thereof which could result in various negative health outcomes
- Cell division
- Blood vessel maintenance
- Red blood cell formation
- Heart health
- Reducing the risk of various birth defects
Folate is widely distributed in foods. Rich sources include dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus), legumes, sunflower seeds, and chicken liver.
Deficiency, Excess Intake and Supplementation
If a folate deficiency is present, then it can result in a variety of symptoms such as:
- Ulcers on the tongue and in the mouth
- Changes in hair colour
- Changes in nail colour – often become pale
- Changes in skin colour – often become pale in complexion
- Stomach cramping
A folate deficiency can also result in megaloblastic anemia however, this could also be due to a vitamin B12 deficiency or a combination deficiency between both vitamins. Megaloblastic anemia results in symptoms such as:
- Extreme fatigue (exhaustion)
- Poor concentration
- Shortness of breath
- Fast pounding heartbeat
It is essential that pregnant women are mindful of their folate consumption and that these women consider folate supplementation. A folate deficiency during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born at a low birth-weight, result in preterm delivery, slow fetal growth and baby’s being born with neural tube defects.
The risk of folate toxicity from eating foods high in folate is extremely rare. Both a vitamin B9 and B12 deficiency can result in anemia and taking a vitamin B9 supplement can help you to feel better, however, the vitamin B12 deficiency will still exist. A persistent vitamin B12 deficiency can result in irreversible brain and nervous system damage. By the time the vitamin B12 deficiency is discovered taking a vitamin B12 supplement can assist in reversing the anemia but any damage to the brain and nervous system will remain. Therefore, excess consumption of folate is discouraged.
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Healthline. (2020, May 18). Folic Acid: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/folic-acid
The Pregnancy Pantry. (n.d.). High Folate Foods for Pregnancy. Retrieved from The Pregnancy Pantry: https://thepregnancypantry.com/high-folate-foods-for-pregnancy/