We typically hear about Folic acid/folate and the importance of it when it is around the subject of planning a pregnancy or expecting a baby. Many of us do not really know what folic acid/folate is really used for in the body, and therefore the reasons why it is so important when you are of child bearing age, planning a pregnancy, and expecting a baby.
Due to the amount of information I want to share with you, I will be splitting this topic into 2 blog posts for this week. This post is meant to give you the background on folic acid and in the next I will share folic acid’s/folate’s relationship to improve infertility, decrease risk of miscarriages, and why men need it too.
Folic Acid: This name is actually referred to the man-made form of Folate. This is the form used to fortify foods and used in vitamins.
Folate: This name is actually referred to the natural form of the nutrient found in food.
Most people used the term “folic acid” whether they are talking about the man-made or natural form. If you come across scientific or medical journals you may see folate or folic acid used separately. I thought it would be helpful for you to know the difference if you did not already.
What it’s used for:
Folic acid/folate is a B vitamin (vitamin B9) that is water soluble (dissolve in water). Folic acid/folate helps your body create new healthy cells. Folic acid/folate is very important for brain function and also plays a role in mental and emotional health. It also assists with the production of DNA and RNA (our genetic material). Due to its use in creating new healthy cells and assisting in the production of DNA and RNA it is crucial when cells and tissues are growing rapidly (in particular to my website-developing babies). It also works with Vitamin B12 to assist in making red blood cells and helps iron function properly in the body. It works with vitamins B6 and B12 along with other nutrients to help control blood levels of the non-protein amino acid homocysteine. Having too high of levels of homocysteine in the blood have been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease and insulin resistance. Homocysteine levels are also shown to be increased in women with PCOS.
Folic acid/folate has shown to have positive influences on decreasing the risk of:
cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, impaired cognitive function, depression, neural tube defects, cleft palate, spina bifida, developmental brain damage, low infant birth weight, preterm delivery, congenital heart defects, reduction in the rate of fetal growth, infertility, and miscarriage
What health conditions have been shown to reduce absorption of folic acid/folate levels in the body?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohnes Disease, and Celiac Disease: The reason these conditions reduce folic acid/folate absorption in the body is because they cause gastrointestinal damage which limits the absorption of folic acid/folate as well as other nutrients.
Tropical Sprue: flattening of the villi and inflammation of the lining of the small intestine- decreases nutrient absorption
Atrophic Gastritis: caused by a lack of acid secretion
Gastric Surgery: Often gastric surgeries impact our body’s ability to absorb nutrients
Severe Kidney problems requiring dialysis: through dialysis there is a larger excretion of folic acid/folate than with urinary excretion.
Alcoholism: has also shown to limit the absorption of folic acid/folate.
Food that contain Folate:
Vegetables (eat raw or lightly steamed):
dark leafy greens, asparagus, beets, mustard greens, spinach, turnips, brussels sprouts, root vegetables, broccoli, green peas, cabbage, corn, okra, artichoke, parsnips, celery, sauerkraut, cauliflower, bean sprouts, green pepper, winter squash, acorn squash, hubbard squash, butternut squash, green beans, plantains, and split peas
oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas, papaya, avocado, tomatoes, peaches, grapefruit, honeydew, raspberries, and black berries
beef liver, salmon, crab, Dungeness, halibut, eggs, chicken, and legumes
wheat germ, rice, whole grains, bulgur wheat, grits, barley, and millet
Nuts and seeds:
lentils, sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds
bakers, nutritional, and brewers
Breakfast cereals, pasta, breads, flour, yogurt, and milk
Adults 19 and older: 400mcg per day
Women who are able to get pregnant: 400-800mcg/ day
Pregnant women: 600mcg per day
Pregnant with twins: 1,000mcg per day
Women with a family history of neural tube defects or already have a baby with neural tube defects: 4,000mcg per day
Breastfeeding women: 500mcg per day
High levels of folic acid/folate have been shown to hide vitamin B12 deficiency.
Always let your Doctor know if you are taking or planning to take any supplements or over the counter medications before you take them.
Remember no matter what it is that you are consuming, too much of anything can be harmful to you.
Ask your doctor to help you find the right dose for you. Just because these are RDA recommendations every person’s body functions in their own unique way. I personally believe individual health is like a fingerprint, what works for someone else may not work for you.
Talk to your doctor about taking folic acid if you are taking any of the following due to possible interactions:
Antibiotic Tetracycline, Phenytion (Dilantin), Pyrimethamine (Daraprim), and Chemotherapy medications
Medications found to lower Folic Acid/Folate levels:
Antacids, H2 blockers that reduce stomach acid such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac)
Bile Acid sequestrants-used to lower cholesterol such as colestipol (Colestid), cholestyraine (Questran, and colsevelam (Welchol)
Anti-seizure meds including phenobarbital, primidone (Mysoline), carbamazepine (Tegretol)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxed (Aleve)
I received much of my information here and you can find more helpful information too:
Book: Fertility, Cycles, & Nutrition Self-care for improved cycles and fertility….naturally! By Marilyn M. Shannon
Another great resource to learn more about folate is What Is Folate? – The Benefits of Vitamin B9 for Your Heart, Brain and DNA by Helen Sanders