Folic acid or folate is a B vitamin. It is also referred to as vitamin M, vitamin B9, vitamin Bc (or folacin), pteroyl-L-glutamic acid, and pteroyl-L-glutamate.
Folic acid is synthetically produced, and used in fortified foods and supplements on the theory that it is converted into folate. However, folic acid is a synthetic oxidized form, not significantly found in fresh natural foods. To be used it must be converted to tetrahydrofolate (tetrahydrofolic acid) by dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). Increasing evidence suggests that this process may be slow in humans.
Vitamin B9 is essential for numerous bodily functions. Humans cannot synthesize folates de novo; therefore, folic acid has to be supplied through the diet to meet their daily requirements. The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and methylate DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in certain biological reactions. It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy. Children and adults both require folate to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Folate and folic acid derive their names from the Latin word folium, which means “leaf”. Folates occur naturally in many foods and, among plants, are especially plentiful in dark green leafy vegetables.
A lack of dietary folates can lead to folate deficiency. A complete lack of dietary folate takes months before deficiency develops as normal individuals have about 500–20,000 micrograms ( µg) of folate in body stores. This deficiency can result in many health problems, the most notable one being neural tube defects in developing embryos—a relatively rare birth defect affecting 300,000 (0.2%) births globally each year and 3,000 pregnancies in the United States each year. Common symptoms of folate deficiency include diarrhea, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness (peripheral neuropathy), pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive deficits, mental depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Low levels of folate can also lead to homocysteine accumulation. Low levels of folate have been associated with specific cancers. However, it is not clear whether consuming recommended (or higher) amounts of folic acid—from foods or in supplements—can lower cancer risk in some people.
In most cases, consuming vitamin B9 will not lead to an overdose. However, large quantities of the vitamin may result in certain side effects, such as nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal bloating. Such symptoms are usually caused by consumption of over 1,500 micrograms of vitamin B9 a day. Prolonged use of large quantities of vitamin B9 can also contribute to the development of folacin crystals in the kidney, which may lead to serious neurological problems. Those who are planning to consume large amounts of the vitamin should seek advice from a physician before they do so.
Folic acid (Vitamin B9), also known as folate, functions as a coenzyme during the synthesis of genetic material (DNA). It is also a vital component for cellular division, and the normal growth, development, function, and reproduction of all cells. Folic acid plays a role in all processes that depend on cell division.
Folic acid is necessary to help regulate the formation of both red and white blood cells. It also aids in the elimination of homocysteine from the body, a blood toxin which can negatively impact the heart muscle and contribute to the deposit of cholesterol in the heart.
Folic acid is a critical chemical for maintaining proper brain function and is integral for good mental and emotional health.
Folate helps to increase the appetite, if necessary, and also stimulates the creation of stomach acids for proper digestion. It also helps to maintain liver health.
Vitamin B9 helps iron to function correctly in the body.
Vitamin B9 is a reliable resource for limiting defects during pregnancy and the birth of a child. It is a common situation that pregnant women maintaining a diet deficient of this vitamin are far less likely to deliver a healthy child.
Folate helps to promote a healthy pregnancy by acting to regulate the development of the fetus’ central nervous system. Folic acid is vital for all growth phases of human life, including being pregnant, lactating and early development due to the critical role that folic acid has in the synthesis of DNA, RNA and protein. Folic acid is used to help prevent certain birth defects, most notably neural tube defects.
Increased consumption of vitamin B9 will help pregnant women prevent premature birth and neural tube defects in their babies. Efficient development of the neural tube will contribute to the formation of a baby’s healthy spinal cord and brain development. It is also known that deficiency of vitamin B9 in pregnant women can also lead to low birth weight.
Vitamin B9 can help in the treatment of patients suffering from anemia resulting from a folic acid deficiency. Synthetic folic acid supplements can be used to treat these disorders resulting from folate deficiency. Folic acid supplements may also be included as part of the prescribed treatment of particularly menstruation-related problems and some leg ulcers.
Help in the digestion and use of protein
Folic acid plays a part in metabolizing proteins. It works in conjunction with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help in the digestion and use of proteins, and to help produce new protein when required.
Preventing Stroke and Heart Disease
It has been proven that folic acid is effective in lowering homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a form of amino acid that is present in certain meats, and it can cause damage to arterial walls, which will in turn lead to the occurrence of atherosclerosis. This condition is known to cause diseases such as stroke and heart diseases.
Vitamin B9 is a significant tool in improving the working of the human heart. It does so by removing homocysteine, which is one of the major causes of heart attacks at early ages. It controls the level of deposition of cholesterol on the human heart, thus ensuring that our cardiovascular system is saved from various disorders.
Apart from causing heart attacks, homocysteine is also responsible for causing strokes, which are deadly events in the brain. Moreover, large amount of homocysteine in the body may also lead to weakening of bones, thus increasing the probability of frequent fractures. Vitamin B9, as mentioned before, helps in controlling the amount of this chemical in the body and reduces the fear of suffering a stroke.