Folic acid, also known as Folate, is a type of vitamin B and it’s responsible for many things like producing DNA, producing red blood cells, and repairing DNA.
If your diet lacks folate, you could end up suffering from folate deficiency. There are numerous foods and drinks that are a good source of folate, most specifically those dark green vegetables and citrus juices. If you don’t get enough in just a few weeks, you’ll immediately suffer from deficiency. You can also suffer from deficiency if you have a condition that makes your body incapable of absorbing folate.
Folate deficiency could develop to anemia, a condition where you will have very few red blood cells (RBC). Anemia will deny your tissues of the oxygen that it needs since it’s the RBC that’s responsible for carrying the oxygen. Folate is especially necessary for women who are in the childbearing stage. Pregnant women suffering from folate deficiency could give birth to a baby with birth defects.
Most people are getting folate from food. Several foods today have additional folate in them, which helps prevent folate deficiency. Furthermore, supplements are highly recommended for pregnant women.
Folate Deficiency Symptoms
Most symptoms of folate deficiency are subtle and may include the following:
- Gray hair
- Growth problems
- Mouth sores
- Swelling tongue
Below are the symptoms of anemia, which occur as a result of folate deficiency:
- Pale skin
- Persistent fatigue
- Shortness of breath
What Causes Folate Deficiency?
Folate is a type of water-soluble vitamin. It gets dissolved in water and doesn’t get stored in your cells. As a result, you must keep on taking folate since your body is unable to keep some reserve. The excess amount of water-soluble vitamins is released through urine.
Here are some of the main causes of folate deficiency.
Diet. A diet that doesn’t include a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as fortified cereals, are often the main reason behind folate deficiency. Furthermore, overcooking food could end up destroying the vitamins in them. The level of folate in your body could decrease in only a few weeks if you deprive yourself of foods that are rich in folate.
Disease. There are certain conditions that could affect the absorption of the gastrointestinal tract, which could lead to folate deficiencies. Among these diseases are:
- Celiac disease
- Certain types of cancers
- Crohn’s disease
- Severe problems in the kidney, which requires dialysis
Genetics. There are some people who have a genetic mutation, which prevents their body from efficiently and properly converting supplemental or dietary folate into its usable form.
Medication Side Effects. Certain medications may also lead to folate deficiency and this could include the following:
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
Excessive Alcohol Intake. Alcohol could also interfere with the absorption of folate. It increases the excretion of folate and releases it through the urine.
How to Diagnose Folate Deficiency?
Folate deficiency is diagnosed through a blood test. The test is often performed among pregnant women when they go for prenatal check-ups.
Severe complications could take place when you’re suffering from the deficiency of folic acid. It’s because folic acid is essential for the production of RBCs in the body. Severe deficiency could also result in megaloblastic anemia. This is a condition that takes place when the red blood cells are not developed completely and are often larger than the usual size. The deficiency can also possibly lead to the low platelet count and white blood cells. Folate deficiency can also make the fetus to develop serious birth defects in the brain and spinal cord.
Folate Deficiency Complications
Folate is important for the production of red blood cells. Complications of the folate deficiency could include the following:
- Low level of platelets and white blood cells.
- Megaloblastic anemia, which could lead to the development of red blood cells that are larger than the usual.
- Serious birth defects affecting the brain and spinal cord of the fetus.
Folate Deficiency Treatment
The treatment of folate deficiency will simply require increasing the intake of folate. Aside from getting it from foods or drinks, folate can also be taken from folate supplements. Those who have a genetic mutation, which affects their body’s ability to absorb folate, called the MTHFR, may need to take methylated folate in order to prevent folate deficiency.
In supplements, folate is usually added to other B vitamins. These are also known as the Vitamin B complexes. Women who are pregnant must totally avoid alcohol and those who have folate deficiency must also lessen their intake of alcohol.
Precautions with Folic Acid Foods
Folate deficiency may also trigger several negative symptoms like fatigue, weakness, irritability, and headaches. It could also indicate that there are some other underlying nutrient deficiencies because it usually occurs along with some other vitamin deficiencies. If you feel like you are suffering from folate deficiency, it would be a good idea to see your doctor and get your folate levels tested.
The best way to meet your folate needs is to get it from whole foods, such as legumes, fruits, and vegetables since they don’t come with any risk of side effects. But if you prefer to add folic acid supplements to your diet, you have to be mindful of the amount you are consuming. You should only take less than 1,000 micrograms every day in order to prevent any negative side effects.
Folic Acid Benefits
Folic Acid for Pregnancy. Folic acid is highly beneficial during the period of pre-conception and during the pregnancy as well. Folate can help to prevent birth defects, enhance the development of the fetus, and increase the chances of conceiving. Those who are planning to conceive are often asked to take folate daily. However, the folic acid supplements must be taken per the dosage recommended by the doctor.
Folic acid intake during pregnancy will not only prevent the baby from any birth defects but it also keeps the baby protected against other problems, such as:
- Cleft lip and palate
- Low birth weight
- Poor growth in the womb
- Premature birth
Depression. Folic acid is also used to treat depression and improve mood. Taking an adequate amount of folate can help in the proper functioning of the brain.
Digestion. Along with Vitamin C and Vitamin B12, folic acid helps the body in using and digesting proteins.
Acne. Folic acid, along with other important antioxidants, can help in eliminating the toxins from your body, which prevents the growth of acne. However, we must also note that folate overdose could lead to dry and patchy skin, as well as acne.
Hair Growth. Folic acid also plays a key role in hair growth. It helps to renew the cells that help the hair to grow. In fact, deficiency of folate could lead to the premature graying of hair and eventually hair loss.
Red Blood Cells. Folate also plays an important function in the red blood cells (RBC). Folic acid supplements can also help in the production of white blood cells.
Healthy Glow. Proper intake of folate can help to give the skin a natural and healthy glow.
Heart Disease. Along with Vitamin B12, folic acid helps the heart in many ways. For one, they help to minimize clotting, which could possibly lead to cardiovascular diseases. Thus, folate helps to minimize any chances of heart attacks.
Cancer. Folic acid has been shown to help prevent the multiplication of cancer cells. Thus, intake of folate supplement can help to protect you against colon cancer. Furthermore, it can also help to prevent pancreatic cancer and cervical cancer.
Firm Skin. Folate can help to improve the firmness of the skin. It also reduces the signs of skin aging.
Alzheimer’s. Consuming an adequate amount of folate can help to ease the suffering of those with Alzheimer’s disease. This is because folic acid has been shown to prevent memory loss resulting from aging.
Diabetes. Folic acid has also been shown to help minimize fat content in blood. This could help in managing obesity, which also leads to the prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.
Male Fertility. Folic acid is not only important for moms to be. It’s also essential for dads to be as it helps in conception by correcting motility and improving sperm counts.
Gum Infection. Folate can be applied directly to the gums in order to heal gum infections.
Anemia. Anemia is one of the most common conditions that affect millions of people worldwide, from the kids to the elderly. Women are especially at high risk of becoming anemic since they have the tendency to ignore their health issues and don’t care much about their diet.
If you find yourself feeling tired at all times and you often feel dizzy and look pale, you must get yourself checked for anemia. Some other symptoms of anemia include pain in the chest, difficulty in breathing, palpitations, and headaches. Both folic acid and iron will not only prevent anemia, but they also help to cure anemia.
As you may know, iron is essential for the red blood cells. In the same way, folate can also help the Vitamin B12 in the development of RBC. It’s important that you adhere to your daily-required intake of folic acid and iron so as to get enough blood pumping into your veins.
Menstruation. Some women tend to lose a lot of blood during their period. If you’re suffering from extremely heavy flow during your periods and you feel even more exhausted, the reason might be because you lack folic acid and iron. Eating foods that are high in folic acid and iron can help to improve your condition. See your doctor and ask if there is a need for you to take folic acid supplements.
Important Tips for Folic Acid Consumption
- Alcohol and tobacco can also help to lower down the level of folic acid and thus, high intake of alcohol and smoking could lead to the deficiency of folate.
- Avoid taking folic acid in excess dosage.
- Consume folate only after proper consultation with your doctor.
- Deficiency of folic acid could lead to diarrhea, irritability, gingivitis, poor growth, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, tongue inflammation, sluggishness, shortness of breath, and seborrhea dermatitis.
- Taking birth control pills is also one of the reasons for the lack of folate in the body.
Is Folic Acid Good for Hair Growth?
Consuming folate regularly help to facilitate an unhindered growth of tissues, allowing the cells to function with no interruption. The unhindered growth of tissues is important when it comes to the matters of hair growth, skin, and nails. Folic acid has been shown to boost the generation of healthy cells, which stimulates the growth of hair in both men and women.
A recent study has also established that folate is effective in treating alopecia. Consuming folic acid regularly has been shown to help in baldness among men. Here are the many ways in which the folate can benefit your hair.
- As folate speeds up the division of body cells, it also assists in the growth of hair.
- Folic acid deficiency is one of the main causes of the premature graying of the hair. Hair discoloration takes place as a result of a process known as the megaloblastic anemia, that refers to the abnormal increase of red blood corpuscles. Consuming folate regularly can help to normalize the production of red blood cells.
- Folic acid helps in the metabolizing of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It also assists in the absorption of the various nutrients in our body. In doing so, your hair follicles would be able to receive the necessary nutrition coming from the foods you consume.
- Proper synthesis of nutrients can help to keep the hair follicles nourished. This can also add volume and shine to your hair.
How to Use Folic Acid for Hair Growth
Folic Acid and Biotin for Hair Growth
Although a lot of people are already taking Biotin to aid in the growth of their hair and nails, it does not often produce the results that they desire. Taking biotin along with folic acid can surely make a huge difference when it comes to the growth of hair. These vitamins are food for the hair and can help to boost the rate at which your hair will grow. With regular consumption of folate, you’ll notice a visible growth of hair in only a couple of months of taking the supplements. However, it’s important that you talk to your doctor or any healthcare professional before you decide to take any form of folic acid supplements. Nuts, eggs, whole grains, legumes, meats, and other food sources also contain a good amount of Biotin.
Folic Acid Food Sources
If you’re a bit skeptical about taking supplements, you can always opt for natural food sources for your folic acid. Aside from consuming healthier foods, you’ll also less likely to suffer from side effects brought about by these supplements. Some of the best sources of folate are leafy greens and fruits. All dried beans, citrus fruits, and leafy greens, such as spinach are also ideal sources of folate. French beans, capsicum, chilies, and broccoli are also good sources of folate.
Folic Acid and Zinc for Hair Growth
If you’re suffering from hair loss problem resulting from the deficiency of zinc, you should increase your consumption of zinc and folate. This is a sure-fire way of boosting your hair growth. While biotin works by maintaining the overall health of your nails and hair, zinc’s role is to prevent hair loss, which is often a result of weak follicles. However, you should always get a proper diagnosis before you decide to take any form of supplements. Nuts, oysters, eggs, spinach, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas are also some of the best sources of zinc.
Folate is especially essential for supporting your body’s growth and development. Deficiency of folate is one of the main reasons behind birth defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida. The link between neural tube defects and folate deficiency was first discovered in 1965, however, recommendations on the intake of folate during pregnancy did not start until after about a decade later when multiple tests show that intake of folate can help to minimize the occurrences of neural tube defects.
The CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended in 1991 that women who have a history of pregnancies affected by the neural tube defects should start taking folic acid in about 4,000 micrograms from the time they started planning to get pregnant. A year after, the Public Health Service of the United States has advised that all women who are at the childbearing stage must start taking at least 400 micrograms of folate every day either by eating natural foods or supplementation of folate.
However, the neural tube will close in only 28 days after the conception. Since 50% of pregnancies in the US are not planned, most women must start to supplement themselves of folic acid even before getting pregnant.
In 1996, the US has authorized the regulation that mandated the fortification of enriched cereal grains containing folic acid. By 1998, the program was implemented fully and today, there are 53 countries from around the world that have a regulation in place for the fortification of wheat flour in a bid to minimize the risk of birth defects.
Folate vs. Folic Acid
So we now know what folate is, but what about folic acid? They are pretty much the same except for a few distinct differences.
Both folic acid and folate are the different forms of Vitamin B9, however, folate is basically the natural form of the vitamins. On the other hand, folic acid is the synthetic form of Vitamin B9 and it’s used in various supplements added to certain food products as well, including flour and breakfast cereals.
Our digestive system works by converting folate to the active form of Vitamin B9, also known as the 5-MTHF. However, this is not applicable to folic acid. Folic acid works by converting the 5-MTHF in the liver and other tissues instead of the digestive system. This is why the process is not too efficient. Thus, if you’re taking a folic acid supplement, your body will take time to get it converted to 5-MTHF.
This is when the problem would arise. Even just a tiny dose of folic acid per day won’t get metabolized completely until the following dose. This will, therefore, result in a higher level of un-metabolized folic acid on your bloodstream and this could greatly lead to severe complications.
This leads to the answer to the question we’ve asked earlier. When it’s folate, there’s no issue about it not going to be metabolized since it is in natural form. It will be metabolized in the digestive system, which means that there won’t be any complications.
Signs of Excess Folic Acid Consumption
If you acquire your folate from food, there isn’t a need to be concerned about over consuming it and getting enough folate. However, it’s important that you stick to the recommended dosage in order to prevent any adverse side effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, skin reactions, confusion, etc. Some other possible side effects of excess folic acid are changes in sex drive, epilepsy, mood changes, and difficulty in sleeping. The upper limit of folic acid coming from supplements and fortified foods has been set at 1,000 micrograms per day.
Some studies have suggested that the enzyme that converts folic acid to its usable form tend to be very slow, which causes the un-metabolized folic acid to accumulate in the tissues and plasma. Although more research is required when it comes to this, high intake of folic acid coming from supplementation might be linked to an increased risk of colorectal tumor and prostate cancer.
Another problem with the excess folic acid is that it could mask the deficiency of Vitamin B12 and this can have dangerous effects on our health if it’s left untreated. Long-term deficiency of Vitamin B12 can also lead to problems like fatigue, anemia, nerve damage, as well as neurological changes.
How to Use Folic Acid
People should ideally get most of their folate from natural and whole food sources, such as vegetables and fruits. These nutrient-dense foods will not only provide you with folate, but they also contain some other vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body.
If you’re not able to meet your folate needs by eating whole foods or if you’re suffering from a condition that could prevent and impair the absorption of folate, your doctor might prescribe you with folic acid supplements.
Most adults should take up to 400 micrograms of folate each day, however, the daily requirements would be higher for breastfeeding or pregnant women. The dosage of folic acid for women ranges anywhere between 100 and 800 micrograms and most of the prenatal vitamins would normally contain 600 to 800 micrograms of folic acid for every serving.
If you do prefer to take supplements, choose L-methylfolate instead of the folic acid. This is a biologically active form of folate and some studies suggest that this can help to mitigate some of the risks associated with high folic acid intake. In addition, make sure you include a wide range of vegetables and fruits that are rich in folate in order to ensure that you’re able to meet your daily micronutrient needs.
Foods High in Folic Acid
Broccoli. One serving of broccoli is equivalent to 91 g and this has 57.3 micrograms of folate. Thus, it’s capable of meeting 14% of your daily requirement of folate. In addition, broccoli is also filled with Vitamins K and A.
Vitamin K can help to prevent inflammation and osteoporosis while Vitamin A is essential for maintaining good health of the teeth and skin. It also plays a significant role in producing pigments in the eye’s retina.
Pinto Beans. Serving size – 1 cup (193 g)
A serving of the beans is equivalent to 193 grams and that’s a whopping 1,013 micrograms of folate. The beans have 670 calories but with only a small amount of saturated fat. Furthermore, the pinto beans contain a good amount of potassium and studies show that optimum consumption of potassium can help to minimize the risk of stroke.
Seeds and Nuts. A serving of flaxseeds is equivalent to 168 grams while a serving of sunflower seeds is 46 grams, and almonds are 95 grams.
Flaxseeds have 146 micrograms of folate for every serving and sunflower seeds have 104 mcg, while almonds have 48 mcg.
You can consume these seeds and nuts in raw form or add them to your salad or other healthy meals. Flaxseeds also contain manganese and some other vitamins, both of which can help to support your nervous system and immune system, as well as your bones, and some other bodily process. Both almonds and sunflower seeds also contain a good amount of Vitamin E, which promotes healthy eyes and skin.
Asparagus. One serving size of almonds has 134 grams and this has 70 mcg of folate. Furthermore, it also contains only 27 calories although a big portion of these calories came from sugar. Asparagus is also a good source of riboflavin and iron. Riboflavin plays an important role in the metabolism of folate while iron is essential in the production of hemoglobin, which is an important part of the blood cells that can sustain life.
Yeast Extract Spread. One serving of this spread is equivalent to 6 grams and it has 60.6 mcg of folate. Although it’s high in sodium, it only contains 9 calories. You can consume the spread with crackers, toast, and sandwiches. If you’re unable to tolerate its strong taste, you can only use a small amount of the spread.
Another major compound that the yeast extract spread has is niacin. According to a study, niacin can help to lower the level of bad cholesterol in the body.
Liver. If you are non-vegetarian, you will be happy to know that chicken liver and beef liver have a good amount of folate in them. These foods are also rich in selenium that has been found to prevent certain types of heart disorders and cancer. However, the liver is rich in trans-fat and cholesterol and must, therefore, be consumed in moderation.
Herbs. Herbs like basil and rosemary are also good sources of folate. A serving of basil and rosemary has 3.6 mcg and 1.6 mcg of folate respectively. Studies were conducted in India and have shown that both herbs are effective in treating hypertension.
Avocados. A serving of avocados has 122 mcg of folate. Furthermore, avocados contain a good amount of Vitamin C, which displays cardio-protective properties among overweight and obese individuals. In addition, the phytochemicals found in the avocado pack a truly powerful punch.
Soybeans. Mature soybeans have 697 mcg of folate and green soybeans have 422 for every serving. These foods, however, are high in calories. Yet soybeans are good sources of protein and as per a study was done in the University of South Carolina, soybean protein can help to lessen bad cholesterol. It also has positive influences in the calcium balance and the bone among women in the post-menopausal age.
Arugula. One serving of arugula has 1.9 micrograms of folate and this food has extremely low saturated fat content and cholesterol. As a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, this food is truly rich in various benefits.
Black-Eyed Peas. A serving of black-eyed peas has 358 micrograms of folate. Furthermore, it has low saturated fat, less cholesterol and low in sodium.
Bananas. One serving of bananas has 45 mcg of folate and this is 11% of your daily requirement of folate. Furthermore, bananas are good sources of Vitamin B6 and help the body to prepare the antibodies to fight off various diseases. Vitamin B6 is also effective at maintaining the normal nerve function and keeps the level of blood sugar within the normal range.
Tomatoes. A serving of tomatoes has 22 micrograms of folate. These vegetables have less saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. They are also a great source of carotenoids, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, and these exhibit anti-tumor and antioxidant properties.
Chili Powder. For most Indians, no day goes by without eating a dash of chili powder. This is somehow beneficial for the body since a tablespoon of chili powder has 7.5 mcg of folate. The chili powder comes with several other benefits as well. Aside from stimulating the blood circulation, it also enhances metabolism and digestion.
Papaya. One serving of papaya has up to 53 micrograms of folate. Furthermore, papaya is also a great source of Vitamin A and C and it’s used to prevent and treat several disorders in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as intestinal infections.