Folic Acid Benefits and Deficiencies

November 12, 2012

Folic Acid Benefits and Deficiencies

Folic acid is also known as pteroylglutamic acid, folate, folacin and vitamin B9. No matter what you call it, it is essential for many metabolic processes. Folic acid is involved with the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and turning them into glucose for energy production (ATP). Folic acid plays a role in nucleic acid (RNA and DNA) synthesis important for cell reproduction and protein synthesis, formation of heme (for red blood cells), brain development in the fetus (neural tube), reduces levels of homocysteine, reduces risk of cancer, and promotes heart health. A folic acid deficiency generates anemia and is associated with birth defects such as spina bifida and premature delivery. Folic acid is also important for proper brain function and deficiencies are associated with chronic depression and other mental disorders. There is no doubt that folic acid benefits are many. Turns out that vitamin B9 or folic acid is the most common B vitamin deficiency in the U.S. For that reason, cereals and grain products have been enhanced with folic acid. Pregnant women are often supplemented with folic acid to prevent birth defects.

Folic acid benefits have been clinically reported to prevent birth defects. Mothers who have deficiencies in folic acid have a higher incidence of neural tube defects in their newborns. Neural defects include spina bifida, cleft palate and other deformities. Supplementation with folic acid (B9) has reduced this incidence by 80 percent and better. Additionally, folic acid has been demonstrated to lower the chance of miscarriage and Downs syndrome. Folic acid has been reported to promote heart health therefore, the American Heart Association recommends that you take all B vitamins including folic acid (B9) to decrease your risk of heart attack. How does this work? Well, folic acid helps to lower homocysteine levels in blood which in turn lowers cholesterol levels which helps to lower the probability of plaque formation in the arteries. Thereby, folic acid benefits the cardiovascular system.

Folic acid benefits brain health particularly for seniors. High levels of homocysteine and low levels of folic acid have been found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Again, folic acid lowers the homocysteine levels as well as promotes brain repair slowing down the degenerative processes of Alzheimer’s disease and allowing for improved short-term memory function. Folic acid along with other B vitamins are used to treat chronic depression. Depression in some cases is also a product of high homocysteine levels.

There have been reports that folic acid benefits include protection against some cancers. These cancers include colon, breast, esophagus and stomach. This has been observed in patients who have inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Studies indicate that men who have low folic acid levels in their semen are also infertile. This suggests that possible supplementation with folic acid may return fertility. Further studies need to be done.

To date, folic acid side effects have been demonstrated to be rare. At very high doses folic acid has been reported to generate stomach upset, sleeping problems, skin reactions and seizures. It is suggested that when you take folic acid that you take vitamin B12 along with it. The reason for this is that folic acid can cover up a B12 deficiency. If this continues, it can cause permanent nerve damage.

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