Folic acid – What’s the big deal?
We’ve all heard doctors and nutritionists stress over folate or folic acid intake. For most people, it’s just another vitamin that makes you healthy and it’s great for the developing baby in a mother’s womb. But is folic acid merely just an add-on to an otherwise healthy diet? If so, then what’s the big deal about it anyway?
Why do we test for Folic Acid?
Folic acid belongs to the Vitamin B family. It is water soluble and does not remain in the cells for a long time the way fat-soluble vitamins do. That’s why a daily intake of 0.4mg is recommended by the RDA. Pregnant women require even greater amounts of folic acid (0.6mg.day).
What folic acid does in the cells of your body is help produce DNA from its precursor molecules. Without this important vitamin, DNA synthesis is diminished and cells cannot divide.
If these recommended levels are not maintained in the blood, several complications can ensue. Folic acid deficiency can cause megaloblastic anaemia in which the red blood cells of the body do not mature properly and have a large, irregular shape. In women who are pregnant, folic acid deficiency can cause serious birth defects in the brain and spinal cord. These neural tube defects are a special cause of concern which gives this vitamin a crucial role.
Folic acid levels are tested in women that are pregnant or in people that have an undiagnosed anaemic condition. It is important that folic acid levels be maintained for the proper development of the fetus and for the normal functioning of red blood cells.
Signs and symptoms of folic acid deficiency
Folic acid deficiency presents with symptoms of a classic anaemia. Lethargy, skin pallor, fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, and irritability are all common signs and symptoms of folate-deficiency anaemia. Apart from these symptoms, you may also experience mouth sores, tongue inflammation, forgetfulness, mental impairment, reduced sense of taste, and diarrhoea.
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should immediately check in with your doctor. A case of megaloblastic anaemia left undiagnosed can worsen, and a case of folate-deficiency in pregnant females can adversely affect the development of the baby.
How to treat folic acid deficiency
If you find out your folic acid levels are low, your doctor will likely recommend switching up your diet and might also include multivitamin supplements (especially if you’re of a child-bearing age).
Certain folic acid rich foods can improve the level of the vitamin in your blood. Consuming these foods on a regular basis will help you meet the daily requirement of folate. Folate-rich sources include:
- Leafy green vegetable (spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprout)
- Orange juice
- Fruits, such as bananas
- Fortified cereals and grains
- Beef liver
Oral folic acid tablets (chewable for children and liquid drops for adults) are also available to meet the daily requirement. It is important to not exceed the recommended dosage. Although folic acid toxicity is rare, it can still cause mild to severe side effects like nausea, bloating, adverse effects of drug interactions, and even neurological symptoms in some people.
Thus, with your health in mind, you definitely should not be ignoring the benefits of folic acid and the harmful impacts that abnormal levels of folic acid can have on your body. Remember, knowing about folic acid is undeniably, a big deal!
If you’re interested in learning more about folic acid and how they affect your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!