This Is Why Folic Acid Is Crucial

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Folic acid is a B vitamin, Vitamin B9, and it plays an important role in the development of human bodies. Folic acid is one of the ingredients in the synthesis of nucleic acid, which itself is one of the pieces that all genetic material is comprised of. Vitamin B9 also works to help create red blood cells, to preserve the brain health of infants and to help with hearing loss, among other of its works.

Although we hear of folic acid being a necessary vitamin for women that are pregnant or wanting to become pregnant, many people don’t fully understand the uses of folic acid and what it benefits our bodies with. In fact, folic acid is essential for more than just women that are pregnant. Read on below to find out who should be taking folic acid, what it can help with, and what sources of folic acid there are available.

 

What does Folic Acid Help With?

Humans need folic acid in every single one of their cells to help in the creation and repair of DNA and RNA. Folic acid actually a component of three other chemicals, glutamic acid, para-aminobenzoic acid, and a pteridine ring. These three compounds can be used by plants and bacteria to produce folic acid, but humans must get the folic acid in its complete form to be able to use it in our bodies. The folic acid humans consume from food is an inert form that must be activated by our liver, but we can get this activated form already from supplements.

In our cells, folic acid is especially necessary during periods of rapid growth such as during pregnancy, infancy and for teenagers. To make DNA, folic acid must interact with an amino acid called serine, an amino acid that is especially abundant in eggs, soy products, cheese, milk, mollusks, nuts and seeds and gelatin products. This is one reason that some people that follow a strict plant-based diet have problems or seem to be folic acid deficient – without the presence of serine, folic acid cannot interact in the body to help create DNA or repair it.

Folic acid can also help with the creation of red blood cells. To do this, the body is also in need of Vitamin B12 as that is what converts the folic acid into a useable form once it is inside a cell for it to be used in the creation of red blood cells. A deficiency in either folic acid or Vitamin B12 leads to megaloblastic anemia. This is when the bones can’t make red blood cells because there isn’t enough Vitamin B12 to convert the folic acid into a useable form for the cells.

Folic acid also seems to play a role in enhancing brain health, but the research has been limited so far and with mixed results. Another role of folic acid is to help prevent age-related hearing loss and it seems that in this case, again, Vitamin B12 is also needed to be present in proper quantities for the folic acid to be used. Folic acid deficiencies have also been linked to autism disorders, cleft lip, and rheumatoid arthritis.

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Who Can Benefit From Folic Acid?

When we think of folic acid, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a supplement for pregnant women. While this is true, and it is very important for pregnant women to take it, most of us don’t realize that it is also important to not be folate deficient at other times. For instance, even women that are planning to become pregnant should be taking folate as a supplement, for up to one year before they want to become pregnant. After pregnancy, women should continue taking folic acid as a supplement, in quantities of 500mcg during the time they are lactating.

Some sources suggest that any woman over the age of 14 should be taking folic acid supplements, about 400mcg a day. In 2009, the PLOS Medicine journal stated that women that take folic acid supplements 12 months before becoming pregnant decrease their chances of having a premature pregnancy by 50-70 percent. This is especially important for women that have high-risk pregnancies or have had premature pregnancies before.

Folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, may also be a good supplement for teenagers. Not only are their bodies growing rapidly again as they did during infancy, but some studies seem to show that folate might be linked to an increase in academic achievement for teenagers. As always, make sure to not only increase the intake of folic acid but also of Vitamin B12 and other nutrients so that the body can properly digest and use the folic acid.

 

Where Can You Find Folic Acid?

Folic acid is available in many foods and it is readily available in supplements as well. Some foods that have high naturally occurring forms of folate include dark, leafy greens (spinach and kale), baker’s yeast, blackberries, cabbage, asparagus, cruciferous vegetables ( broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower), egg yolks, lentils, milk, papaya, kiwi, parsnips, peas, oranges, and sunflower seeds. In most instances, eating these foods fresh rather than cooked provides more folic acid – except when vegetables are pressure cooked which actually increases the amount of folic acid present significantly. As previously mentioned, make sure that when ingesting the natural form of folic acid from foods that your body is also ready to convert this inert form into the active form – keeping your liver healthy is essential for this.

Folic acid can also be found in many fortified foods including whole wheat breads, cereals, and oat based products (cereal or granola bars, instant oatmeal packets, etc.). Typically, two servings of most fortified cereals provides all the folic acid that a pregnant woman needs in one day and more than enough for anyone else. This does not necessarily mean that those types of foods are nutritionally healthy, as most of the fortified cereals are also full of sugar and empty calories.

Folic acid can also be found in supplements. Usually, this is an easier form of folic acid for our bodies to use as it is already activated and sometimes the supplements include the other vitamins that our bodies need as well to convert the folic acid. Another thing to consider is that when taking supplements with food or after a meal, about 30% of the folic acid in the supplement is not absorbed by the body, so make sure to account for this fact or take your supplements before a meal to be able to absorb the full amount.

 

READ ALSO: Phytates & Phytic Acid: Friend Or Foe?

 

Conclusion

Folic acid is a supplement that everyone’s body needs to able to function properly and prevent diseases such as anemia from forming. Folic acid is especially important when the body is going through rapid growth such as during pregnancy, infancy, and early adulthood (for teens). You can find folic acid readily available in many foods but many people don’t get the daily recommended value just from food, so it must be supplemented. Whether you work to get folic acid from your daily diet or add supplements, make sure to have enough of this crucial vitamin in your diet for your body to function well.

References:

www.medicalnewstoday.com

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

www.webmd.com