Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, folate and folacin, is an important nutrient which can significantly lower the chances of a serious birth defect involving the brain and spiral cord in pregnant women. It is used in the body to create and repair your DNA, which is important for cell growth and regeneration. Not only that, but it also works in conjunction with vitamin B12 to aid in the production of red blood cells. Some new studies have also suggested that a diet rich in folacin can help prevent cervical cancer in women.
Most people in the United States get an adequate amount of folacin from the foods that they eat, assuming they are eating a well balanced diet. Pregnant women and people who take certain medications can be at a greater risk for folic acid deficiency. Women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, are recommended to take an additional 400 micrograms of folacin daily to help prevent birth defects and complications during pregnancy.
The recommended daily allowance of folacin is 180 to 200 micrograms per day according to the US RDA. Foods that are a good source of the vitamin include leafy green vegetables, whole grain breads, steamed beans and peas, nuts, seeds, sprouts, citrus fruit, liver, poultry and certain breakfast cereals which have been fortified with folacin.
Citrus fruit juices can also be a great source. A single 8 ounce glass of orange juice provides half your daily allowance of folate. Folate is easily damaged by heat, which can reduce the amount of folate in foods 50%-90%. This makes it important to eat folate rich foods raw whenever possible to get the maximum amount of the vitamin.
Folic Acid Deficiency
It is also known as folate deficiency. Folate deficiency is characterized by a lack of sufficient folacin in the diet. The symptoms can be quite subtle. Folate deficiency anemia is the medical name that’s used to describe this condition.
There are many different symptoms including weight loss, weakness, headaches, and chest pains. You may also experience irritability or other behavioral problems when dealing with this type of deficiency.
Birth defects are also more of a risk for pregnant women experiencing a deficiency of this vitamin. Low birth weight and premature birth as well as neural tube defects might occur in women with this condition. Folacin is important for cell division and DNA creation, which makes it an important nutrient for growth. In adult men and women, anemia can point to advanced folic acid deficiency.
Studies have also suggested that the deficiency of folacin can be a major contributing factor for depression. Low levels of vitamin B9 can hinder the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. The deficiency as well as B12 deficiency can also lead to neurological disorders as they inhibit the metabolism of neurotransmitters.
The condition is caused when the body’s need for folacin increases, such as pregnancy, or when dietary intake isn’t meeting the minimum requirements. Certain medications which make it more difficult for your body to process folacin also increase the need for this nutrient. Some studies even indicate that being exposed to ultraviolet lighting, such as those used in tanning beds, can cause a deficiency.
People who smoke are also more susceptible to the deficiency. Smoking hinders the body’s natural ability to synthesize the folacin you consume, leading to a need for more folacin. Other conditions like kidney dialysis and liver disease can also require a larger intake of folacin daily to avoid a deficiency.
B12 and Folic Acid
People who consume too much folacin are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, and might never even know it. Folacin will mask most of the effects of B12 deficiency, except for the neurological damage caused by a B12 deficiency. Not only that but high levels of folacin can also make B12 deficiency worse and increase the severity of cognitive symptoms caused by the B12 deficiency. This makes folic acid fortification dangerous for those already consuming high levels of this vitamin.
There are few other overdose risks associated with the vitamin B9. There have also never been any correlations between naturally ingested folic acids found from foods and overdose. Only dietary supplements will put you at risk for an overdose, though this is quite rare. Upper intake levels are rated at 1mg per day for adult men and women, which should never be surpassed to avoid any chance of masking a B12 deficiency.
Folic Acid Side Effects
It is safe for most people. Most men and women won’t experience side effects when taking the recommended daily dose, which is between 200 and 400 micrograms.
Symptoms of folic acid overdose include digestive complications such as nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, gas and cramping. Behavioral side effects can include irritability, confusion, and other behavior changes and problems. You might also experience skin conditions such as rashes and other skin reactions.
Doctors believe there may be some long term adverse effects associated with overdosing on folacin regularly. Researchers believe that taking it in doses of 800 micrograms or greater daily can actually increase your risk for certain cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Other research also suggests that high doses of folacin over a prolonged period of time can also increase your risk for certain types of cancer such as lung and prostate cancer.
It’s important to consult with your physician before beginning any new diet or supplement regimen. Your doctor will be able to tell you how much is necessary depending on the medication you take and your own personal needs. Some medications can inhibit the metabolizing of folic acid in the liver, which can increase your need for folacin intake.
Other unwanted side effects include interactions with certain prescription and over the counter drugs. The vitamin can increase or decrease a prescription drugs effectiveness, which can cause serious negative effects. Prescription drugs known to interact with folacin include cerebyx, rheumatrex, luminal, dilantin, mysoline and daraprim. It’s important to let your doctor know about any supplements you take if you are currently prescribed any medications to avoid any side effects. Fortunately, most people won’t ever have to worry about the dangers of its side effects.