Are You Getting Enough Folic Acid?

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By Lee Dobbins

You may take supplements for vitamins A, C, and E, but what about folic acid? If you don’t eat a lot of leafy greens, liver or brewer’s yeast, then chances are, you’re not getting enough of this important vitamin.

Folic acid, otherwise known as vitamin B9, is essential to cell production and plays a vital role in the development of the fetus. In fact, studies have shown that supplementing with folic acid can reduce birth defects by 72 to 100 percent. Folic acid also plays a role in the metabolism of protein and formation of amino acids. This vitamin is also been shown to help with mental health and the digestive and nervous systems.

Because most foods besides liver are a poor source of folic acid, you may have a deficiency unless you happen to eat quite a bit of liver and leafy greens. Signs of a deficiency include an inflamed tongue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, forgetfulness and mental sluggishness. These can also be signs of many other problems, and it is best to seek the advice of a physician if you have any of these symptoms.

In addition to your diet, there are conditions that might deplete your body or block absorption of B vitamins, including folic acid. Celiac disease, alcoholism and irritable bowel syndrome are three things that can contribute to a deficiency.

Folate may also play a role in depression, as studies in elderly people have shown. The three vitamins B6, B12 and B9 must work together to improve depression and should be taken in a multivitamin supplement or administered by a doctor. These vitamins decrease the amount of homocysteine in your body. Homocysteine is thought to play a role in causing depression.

Some studies also have shown that taking high levels of folic acid in addition to beta carotene, vitamin C and fiber, may reduce the risk of some cancers. One study of 50,000 women claims to have shown that taking adequate amounts of folate reduced the risk of breast cancer. In addition, deficiency of folate (folic acid) has also been linked to heart disease and male infertility.

The minimum US RDA for folic acid is 400 micrograms per day for men as well as women. Bear in mind, supplements usually contain more than this amount. Besides liver, dark leafy greens, and brewer’s yeast, folic acid can be found in some seafood, milk and orange juice. You can find smaller amounts of folic acid in whole grains and some root vegetables.

When taking folic acid supplements (or any supplements for that matter), it is important not to overdo it. Adverse side effects from folic acid supplements are rare but can occur if the dose exceeds 15,000 mcg. It is interesting to note that because B vitamins work together, taking any one of them alone can cause a deficiency in the others.

If you think you need to take a folic acid supplement, talk to a healthcare professional to see if it is right for you. Some medicines like antibiotics and warfarin can react adversely to supplementing with folic acid, and ibuprofen and aspirin can cause a deficiency. Methotrexate, which is used to treat some cancers as well as rheumatoid arthritis, increases the body’s need for folic acid. Adding this vitamin to your supplement list can greatly reduce its side-effects while still keeping the effectiveness, so if you must take this drug, be sure see your health care professional about adding folic acid to your diet.

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