Nutrition

Folic Acid | Benefits, Deficiency Symptoms & Food Sources

By Myprotein Writer

Chloe Thurston

Folic acid is a B vitamin that is crucial for the formation of red blood cells along side Vitamin B12. The form of folate that is found in food is called ‘folate’.

Deficiency in the vitamin may cause anemia (reduced ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen).

Both vitamins work together as a team to help nerve functioning. Folic Acid is needed for the formation of DNA within every cells of the body to ensure that each one is replicating properly (Mann and Truswell, 2012; Wildman, 2013; Powers, 2014).


Folic Deficiency

Deficiencies in folate acid usually will result in symptoms such as tiredness (due to the anemia), weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss and diarrhea. It can be the result of either a poor diet or if there is an increase demand (such as during pregnancy).

folic acid deficiencies

However, some cases include where folic acid losses can be excessive (Crohns, untreated coeliac disease) and also from medications like diuretics and even alcohol abuse (Mann and Truswell, 2012; Wildman, 2013; Powers, 2014;BNF, 2016).

Pregnancy

A foetus is developing the spine and its nerve cells in the first few weeks of pregnancy. If there are inadequate levels of folate during this crucial time then there may be a risk of the baby developing ‘neural tube defect’ and results in a spinal malformation call spina bifida.

Heart disease

There have been studies that have looked into the effect of folic acid supplementation and the reduction in homo-cysteine – an amino acid that can irritate blood vessels –, which has been associated with an increase risk of heart attack or even stroke.

Populations where there has been a high rate of heart disease, has been shown to also have a high level of homo-cysteine in the UK. However, there has been no proof that reducing levels of homo-cysteine can indeed reduce the rates of heart disease or stroke.

The amino acid is only thought to be an indicator rather than a risk factor (Spence,2016;Powers,2014; )


Sources of Folic Acid

Folic acid an be found in a wide range of food naturally and can also be found in foods once they have been fortified. It is a water-soluble vitamin, therefore by so by over cooking vegetables it means that you are loosing most of the nutrients held within.

By simply reducing the length of time that you boil vegetables and opting for methods like steaming you will be able to obtain more folic acid.

Another alternative would be to drink the water that you have cooked the vegetables in or even making gravy or stock using it (Mann and Truswell, 2012; Wildman, 2013; Powers, 2014).

Folic Acid Food Sourcesspinach

Spinach
Yeast and beef extracts
Beans and legume
Fortified foods (breakfast cereals – check the labels first)
Poultry, pork, shellfish and liver
Brussels
Cabbage
Broccoli
✓ Oranges and orange juice

Most people are able to obtain a sufficient amount of folate (both men and women) by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains. They are naturally high in folate and can battle against heart disease and cancer.


Notes

1) Even though folic acid fortification and supplementation can correct anemia due to B12 deficiency, it is masking the damage to nerves as a result of the reduced B12.

2) Also older generations are at a greater risk as the ability to uptake B12 decreases with age. However, there has been no evidence from countries that fortify flour to show that more people have developed nerve damage as a result of B12 deficiency since the introduction of flour fortification.

3) Research has also suggested that a does greater that 1 mg/day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer in people that have a history it. However, there is research that shows that there is not significant effect between folate and cancer.

Overall, experts have considered all the evidence for and against flour supplementation and have recommended that the UK should fortify flour with folic acid (BDA, 2014).


Take Home Message

Folic Acid is important for the body and can deliver great benefits.

Include some in the diet through food or through supplementation!

References

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MR PROTEIN

MR PROTEIN

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