Folic Acid: Benefits, Sources, Deficiency

Folic acid (often interchangeably referred to as folate) is a kind of Vitamin B – in particular, referred to as Vitamin B9

The term folate is used to denote the naturally occurring form of folic acid, while the latter refers to the chemical form – which means it is available in supplements or fortified foods. Both of these provide the same health benefits to the system, which are numerous in number.

Folic acid is necessary for performing many functions related to the body – and it cannot be supplied or synthesized by the body itself. You can only derive it through your diet. 

Folic acid is necessary in order to synthesize and repair DNA, and is required for healthy production of red blood cells (which, in turn, helps prevent anemia).

Folic acid derives its name from the Latin word ‘folium’ meaning leaf, as one of the common sources of Folic acid/folate are green leafy vegetables.

Benefits of Folic acid

Folic acid is found to be beneficial in order to ensure the cells of our body grow and develop properly – this is because folate is associated with DNA synthesis and repair.

It also prevents the cell from getting damaged easily. Hence, an adequate amount is necessary in order to ensure prevention of some birth defects (such as neural tube defects).

High levels of homocysteine in the blood are associated with stroke and heart disease – along with being associated with low levels of folic acid. Hence, an increase in the amount of folic acid consumed is often effective in reducing the amount of homocysteine in the body.

Folic acid also works as an effective antidepressant by regulating interactions of certain chemicals in the brain.

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Consumption of Folic acid

Infants: 80 micrograms for 0-12 months. Children: 150 micrograms for 1-3 years, 200 micrograms for 4-8 years, 300 micrograms for 9-13 years. 14 years and above (including adults): 400 micrograms. For the details, you might refer to this guide.

Sources of Folic acid

Folic acid is found in many grains and grain-related products that are often fortified. The direct form of the same can also be found in B-complex supplements, some of which target specific groups such as pregnant women.

Apart from this, it is also found naturally in many different kinds of foods, which include fruits, vegetables and nuts. These include beans, peas, spinach, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and avocado. 

Citrus fruits such as oranges and papayas are also found to be rich in folates. Nuts and seeds that contain the same include almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Deficiencies of Folic acid

The lack of Folic acid consumption (and subsequent inability to use folates observed in the system) can lead to folate deficiency. This has a detrimental effect characterized by many symptoms

It can cause diarrhea, mouth ulcers, heart palpitations, weakness of the nerves, numbness in the limbs, and may even lead to cognitive defects – thus affecting more than one part of the body. 

Apart from this, they may also lead to a loss of appetite and subsequently, weight loss.

In children, Folic acid deficiency can lead to the slowing down of growth rate, which may lead to developmental problems.

One of the more subtle symptoms of the deficiency is the anemia associated with it – it often is not discovered until later. The condition is referred to as folate deficiency anaemia and must be treated as soon as possible.

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