Vitamin B9 – also known as folate or folic acid – is a water-soluble vitamin vital to several bodily functions. Folate helps stabilize and maintain the nervous system, supports adrenal function, and normalizes various metabolic processes.

This B vitamin is essential for growth and development, proper nervous system, and brain function. Further, it may protect the body against various colonic, cervical, and lung cancers. In addition, folate may counteract the effects of aging. Folate also stimulates DNA production and helps repair genetic material that may become damaged.

Throughout pregnancy, folate aids in the 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 women include adequate amounts of the vitamin in their daily diet.

Folate Deficiency

In developed countries, this deficiency is not considered a health concern. Most people obtain the necessary amounts from their diets, although some groups may be considered at risk for insufficient folate 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 due to inadequate folate intake. As specified in the paragraph below, the at-risk groups should take precautions to ensure that folate is consumed regularly.

Groups of people considered at-risk for folate deficiency include pregnant women, 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 at risk for folate deficiency.

Diet and nutrition experts recommend that adults get at least 400 micrograms, and that children get at least 300 micrograms. Several adverse health effects may be experienced if one does not consume these minimum standards.

We will discuss some signs of a nutrient deficiency and ways of supplementing our diets.

Here are seven signs that you may have a folate deficiency:

1. Anemia

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 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 the folate’s primary functions is the regulation of the adrenal glands; the impaired function of these glands is a primary cause of CFS. Therefore, it is 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 – 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 of illness.

4. Changes in mood

Any potential cause of mood changes demands careful examination, as this is a cloudy concept with myriad potential causes. However, it is an established fact that folate is necessary for proper nervous system function. It can be inferred that lack of folate may impact neurological function. Some think a subset of folate (L-Methylfolate) “may be the answer” to depressive symptoms, for example.

5. Digestive problems

The National Institutes of Health characterize B vitamins 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, but it may also assist in preventing skin cancer. According to an article published in the US National Library of Medicine, folate (along with Vitamin D) is 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. Several studies seem to agree with this notion.

7. Hair loss or greying

Folic acid replenishes cells that aid the growth of hair. When low folic acid levels, 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.

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Folate sources

First, it is important to distinguish between folate and folic acid. Folic acid is its synthetic component, normally consumed as a supplement or additive.

Here are some sources of folate and folic acid: citrus fruits, avocados, green vegetables, lentils, leafy greens, whole grain bread, grain products (cereal, pasta, oatmeal), and legumes.

Of course, both folate and folic acid are available as supplements. Retailers package folic acid as an individual supplement. Conversely, folate comes in most B-complex products. For additional information, contact a nutritionist or dietitian.