Most of us have probably heard of folic acid as being recommended during pregnancy to prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) like spina bifida. It took over 20 years from initial studies in 1968 by Smithells, a British paediatrician until supplementation was recommended for pregnant women and nearly 40 years until the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommended adding folic acid to flour or bread (fortification).
Folic acid is found in whole-grains, fresh green vegetables and legumes, suggesting that people who are deficient in folic acid are not eating enough of these foods and risk being deficient in other nutrients found in the same foods, e.g. B vitamins, magnesium and chromium. Food fortification, by law aims to balance nutrients lost in processed food to meet Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA), though vitamin B6 and several minerals are not covered by this law so fortification will not ensure adequate essential nutrients in processed foods (western diet) to support a balanced diet or optimum health.
What does it do
It functions in the metabolism of ribonucleic acids (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) and is essential for replication of cells, protein synthesis, formation of blood and transmission of genetic code (hereditary characteristics). Some of its functions are associated with vitamin B12.
Deficiency and Symptoms
Deficiency causes megoblastic anaemia where red blood cells are large and uneven in size and shape with shorter life span. This can be common in pregnancy. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, breathlessness, irritability, sleeplessness giving rise to mild mental symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion. Low folic acid has been linked with an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Inadequate intake: diet lacking in fresh, raw or lightly cooked food, chronic alcoholism
- Inadequate absorption: celiac disease, drugs (see below), the elderly, indicated if dietary intake is adequate and alcohol consumption is not excessive
- Inadequate utilisation: drugs (see below)
- Increased excretion: kidney dialysis
- Drugs, particularly if taken long term: some forms of – antacids, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, anti- inflammatory, anti organ rejection, aspirin, diuretics, chemotherapy, synthetic oestrogen replacement, oral contraceptive pill (OCP); some forms of drugs to treat ankylosing spondylitis, cholesterol, crohns, diabetes, dialysis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, ulcers
This is recommended in pregnancy and in deficiencies. There is concern that long term high doses may cause vitamin B12 losses from the body. Folic acid may cure anaemia symptoms of B12 deficiency, but not the nerve degeneration that follows. More studies are needed to clarify this.
We are happy to advise you on your health matters.
Aether Bios Clinic
Tel: 01273 309557
Mobile: 07710 227038