Vitamin B9 – also known as folate or folic acid – is a water-soluble vitamin that is vital to a number of bodily functions. Folate helps stabilize and maintain the nervous system, supports adrenal function, and normalizes various metabolic processes.
Folate is essential for growth and development, proper nervous system and brain function, and may protect the body against various cancers, including colonic, cervical and lung cancer. In addition, folate may counteract the effects of aging. Folate also stimulates the production of DNA and helps repair genetic material that may become damaged.
Throughout pregnancy, folate aids in growth of the fetus and placenta. Additionally, the vitamin helps prevent a myriad of birth defects, including of the brain and spinal cord. As such, it is recommended that pregnant woman include adequate amounts of folate in their daily diet.
In developed countries, folate deficiency is not considered to be a health concern. Most people obtain necessary amounts from their diets, although some groups may be considered at-risk for insufficient folate intake – or folate deficiency.
At-risk, as should be understood in terms of folate deficiency, pertains to individuals or groups that may experience adverse health consequences as a result of inadequate folate intake. The at-risk groups, as specified in the paragraph below, should take precaution to ensure that folate is consumed regularly.
Groups of people considered at-risk for folate deficiency include: women who are pregnant, women who wish to become pregnant, alcoholics, liver disease and dialysis patients, and breast-feeding mothers. Individuals that take medication for diabetes, and those who use diuretics or laxatives are also considered to be at-risk for folate deficiency.
Diet and nutrition experts recommend that adults get at least 400 micrograms of folate, and that children get at least 300 micrograms. A number of adverse health effects may be experienced if one does not consume these minimum standards.
We’re going to discuss some of the signs of folate deficiency, along with ways of supplementing folate into our diets.
Here are 7 signs that you may have a folate deficiency:
Anemia is a health condition that arises when the blood does not contain adequate supplies of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Human blood requires the presence of folic acid in order to produce normal red blood cells. Low levels of folic acid can result in a condition known as megaloblastic anemia, which prevents important red blood cells from fully developing.
2. Chronic low energy
Chronically feeling deprived of energy may be a sign of folate deficiency. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – a health condition characterized by extreme fatigue lasting more than six months – has been linked with low levels of folate in the body. One of folate’s primary functions is regulation of the adrenal glands; the impaired function of these glands is a primary cause of CFS, and therefore a potential, indirect product of low folate.
3. Frequent illness
Folate helps to support a healthy immune system, a relatively-unknown trait of B-vitamins (most associate immune health with Vitamin-C). According to Harvard University, researchers note that diets lacking in folic acid – the conversional element of folate – may weaken the immune system. While more research needs on the exact mechanisms of folate’s effect on immune health, it is apparent that a folate deficiency may contribute to more bouts with illness.
4. Changes in mood
Any potential cause of “changes in mood” needs to be examined carefully, as this is a cloudy concept with a myriad of potential causes. However, it is an established fact that folate is necessary for proper nervous system function. It can be inferred, then, that lack of folate may impact neurological function. Dr. Tracy Stein states that a subset of folate (L-Methylfolate) “may be the answer” to depressive symptoms, for example.
5. Digestive problems
B-vitamins are characterized by the National Institutes of Health as “essential,” that is, the body needs them to function properly. Now, folate hasn’t traditionally been referred to as a helpful digestive agent, but folic acid has been. Specifically, folic acid stimulates the production of stomach acid, which helps ensure proper digestion. Constipation, abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea are common digestion problems that may result from low levels of folic acid.
6. Unhealthy skin
Skin condition is one of the best indicators of overall health, and the skin requires folic acid for nourishment. Not only is folate necessary for health, it may assist in the prevention of skin cancer. According to an article published in the US National Library of Medicine, folate (along with Vitamin D) are essential for skin cell reproduction.
As ultraviolet (UV) exposure diminishes the presence of folate in the skin, it is necessary to supplement the nutrient. Additionally, due to folate’s ability to reconstruct and repair DNA, researchers hypothesize that folate supplementation is a practical action that can prevent skin cancer – a notion that has already been proven through a number of studies.
7. Hair loss or greying
Folic acid replenishes cells that aid the growth of hair. When folic acid levels are low, these cells lack the necessary nourishment to stimulate hair growth; which may result in hair loss. Also, folic acid deficiency may hasten the development of grey hair.
First, it is important to make the distinction between folate and folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic component of folate, and is normally consumed as a supplement or as an additive.
That said, here are some sources of both folate and folic acid: citrus fruits, avocados, green vegetables, lentils, leafy greens, wholegrain breads, grain products (cereal, pasta, oatmeal), and legumes.
Of course, both folate and folic acid are available as supplements. Folic acid is generally sold as an individual supplement, while folate is included in most B-complex products. For additional information, contact a nutritionist or dietitian.