Folic acid, also known as folacin or folate, is a B vitamin. Obtaining adequate amounts of folic acid has many benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and decreasing the incidence of breast and colon cancer. Women who are pregnant especially should consume sufficient quantities of folic acid, as this has been shown to prevent certain birth defects.
The main functions of folic acid are to assist in the absorption and use of amino acids, which make up protein, to advance the development of red blood cells and to convert vitamin B12 into a coenzyme to assist with the production of rapidly growing cells. Coenzymes help enzymes complete their natural function; enzymes are catalysts that affect chemical reactions within the body.
You can obtain folic acid from a variety of foods. These include bread, flour, pasta, cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, bananas, grapefruit, milk, cheese, yogurt and dried beans. Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it is absorbed easily into the body and broken down very quickly. Therefore, this vitamin needs to be replaced on a daily basis.
A deficiency of folic acid can lead to a condition called anemia, or a lack of mature red blood cells. It also could result in gastrointestinal tract deterioration. Other problems resulting from a deficiency in folic acid include a smooth and red tongue, mental confusion, weakness, fatigue, irritability, headaches, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. Adult women should get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Neural Tube Defects
If a pregnant woman does not consume enough folic acid, she could be placing the fetus at risk for neural tube defects, meaning the brain or spinal cord does not develop properly. The two main types of afflictions are spina bifida, a split spine, or anencephaly, a lack of part or all of the brain. Pregnant women should get 600 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis.
- The Complete A-Z Nutrition Encyclopedia; Leslie Beck
- Nutrition Now; Judith E. Brown
- Understanding Nutrition; Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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