Don’t Commit the Folly of getting Folic Acid Deficiency
Folic acid is part of the B-Complex of vitamins. It is crucial for red blood cells & numerous other cells in the human body. Folate is the naturally-occurring folic acid in food. Along with Vitamin B12, folic acid is important in the formation of RBCs. Any lack of these 2 nutrients results in macrocytic anaemia. In this condition, the RBCs appear large & bloated and their capacity to carry oxygen also reduces. Folate and the other Vitamin B’s play a very important role in nerve function.
DNA is the genetic material that is present within each cell in the body. Folate is required to form this genetic material and it also permits the normal replication of these cells. On a biochemical level, folate acts like chemical and catalyzes 1-Carbon transfer reactions. These are very important in the formation of pyrimidines and purines, which are the DNA’s building blocks.
Standard Folate Requirements
Most of the folate that is required by women who are not pregnant and men is obtained from a well-balanced and healthy diet. But pregnant & breast-feeding require additional folate and so do growing children. Pregnant women need to be extra careful and ensure that they are consuming the required quantity of folate, as a lack of it can result in certain severe nerve defects such as spina bifida, anencephaly and neural tube defects in the unborn children. The standard daily recommendation for folic acid/folate is:
- Adults & children above 11 years– 200μg
- Women considering pregnancy-200μg and a folate supplement that contains 400μg
- Pregnant Women: 300μg and a 400μg supplement in the 1st twelve weeks of pregnancy
- Women who are breast-feeding-260μg
Folate Deficiency & its Symptoms
Folate deficiency will occur in 2 cases-The first is during excess demand of folic acid/folate (e.g. during pregnancy & breast feeding). The second is in case of excessive loss (e.g. untreated celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, alcoholism or use of medications such as diuretics etc). In cases of Folic acid deficiency there might be certain general symptoms:
- Weight Loss
- Loss of appetite
- Heart Palpitations
- Sore tongue
- Behavioural disorders.
Getting Folic Acid from Foods
Folate is naturally present in dark-green leafy vegetables. As a matter of fact, the word folate is derived from the word “foliage”. It is a Vitamin that is soluble in water and thus it is lost very easily from greens during cooking. Avoiding over-cooking is one way of preventing this. It is also possible to preserve folate by microwaving/steaming vegetable versus boiling them in water.
The Over Dosage Factor & Treatment
Though the right dosage of folate is essential, what is also important is that it be supplemented with Vitamin B12. If these are not administered in combination, it can result in nerve damage caused by B12 deficiency which is an irreversible condition Elderly individuals are more at risk as the body is not able to absorb Vitamin B12 as efficiently with advancing age. People above 50 years of age are advised to keep their folic acid intake at200μg/day.
In adults below 50 years, the long-term intake of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods should be under 1mg per day and the amounts that children consume should be lower. This deficiency is treated with 1,000 mg of a supplemental folic acid per day until the folic acid levels get replenished. Typically, the associated anaemia gets corrected within 2 months.
In Prevention Mode
Prevention of Folic acid deficiency is largely about consuming the aright amounts of folate and ensuring that it is complemented with B12. The right amounts of folic acid can be assured by consuming a varied and well-balanced diet that includes foods such as:
- Fortified cereals, grains & bread products
- Legumes & dried beans
- Poultry, liver, pork & shellfish
- Vegetarians can concentrate on consuming fresh fruits &vegetables, especially the dark and leafy green vegetables as well as citrus fruits & juices
As in the case with most deficiencies, consuming the right foods in the right quantities can keep folic acid deficiency away.
Which folate-rich foods have you been consuming lately?