The Importance of Folic Acid

Folic Acid, nutrition

So this week folic acid has been in the news, the UK government is considering to add it to bread as a way of increasing our consumption of the nutrient. As a osteopath I have treated patients that are pregnant as well as people with spina Bifida the two major groups affected by a deficiency of folic acid.

What is it?

Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that is found naturally in folate. It also works along side vitamin B12. It is also water soluble so can be dissolved in water. It helps in the formation of red blood cells in the body, which are responsible for carrying oxygen round the body. Folic acid is also responsible for the formation of DNA in each cell and essential in growth especially for nerve cells.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

Some of the signs of folate deficiency are the following:

* Pernicious Anaemia – this means you red blood cells can’t carry as much oxygen in each cell as it should reducing the amount of oxygen going round the body.
* Tiredness + weakness – (a symptoms of anaemia)
* Diarrhoea
* Loss of appetite and weight
* Headaches
* Heart palpitations
* Increase risk of Spina Bifida

What foods are folic acid in?

Due to the fact that folate is water soluble you need to make sure that you are not over boiling you vegetables as you will lose the folate.

1. Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli
2. Beans, legumes
3. Yeast beef extract
4. Orange
5. Wholegrain + wheatbran foods
6. Poultry, pork, shellfish, liver
7. Fortified food – cereals. Margarine
8. supplement normally come in 400 micrograms

How much do you need + can you get too much?

Normally you wont have any problems getting enough folate in your diet naturally if you only need the average of 200 micrograms (mg) amount.

* Adults + children – 200 mg,
* Trying to get conceive – 600 mg
* First 12 weeks of pregnancy – 700 mg
* Lactating – 260mg

You will also need more if you have Crohn’s, coeliac or any other disease that may affect your absorption of nutrients. The amount of folic acid that you can absorb can also be affected by diuretics (water tablets) and alcohol.

Generally it wont make much of a difference and you wont get any side effects from having too much folic acid. However it is not recommended for people over the age of 50 who also have a history of bowel cancer to take more supplements of folic acid with more than 200mg.

Why is it so important in Pregnancy?

It wont take long after hearing the word folic acid for someone to mention pregnancy. As folic acid is important in the development of DNA it therefore means that it is an essential nutrient to someone that is growing a human being. If you do not have enough in your blood it can lead to defects in the way your DNA is processed and therefore birth defects. It plays a crucial role I n nerve cells especially and will increase the risk of defects associated with the condition Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida is a condition that affects the neural tubeand the arch of the bones do not fully form and leave part of the spinal cord exposed and not fully protected. For more information of Spina Bifida read my blog post on the condition. Therefore up to the 12th week of pregnancy when your baby will be going through the biggest growth of DNA it is important you get enough.

Why should it be added to our foods?

Despite the advise to take folic acid in the first 12 weeks many pregnant women don’t. Also some women may not have realised that they are pregnant in the early stages and therefore don’t realise they need an increased amount of the nutrient.

The UK is not alone in wanting to add it to foods like bread and cereal, many countries including the US have already implemented it. It has been implemented since 1998 in the US and is added cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items.

As folic acid is associate with Vit B12 often having enough of folic acid can often mask the symptoms of not having enough Vit B12. Therefore if you add folic to food meaning most people will be getting enough, it will be harder to pick up when you don’t have enough B12 deficiency. However there is no research to prove that having folic acid in bread would increase the cases of deficiency of Vit B12.

However there has been some research that has shown that increasing your folic acid intake by at least 1mg can increase the risk of colorectal cancer in patients that already have it in their family. Dispute this finding there is also contradictory research saying it doesn’t have a significant effect in promoting cancer.

Research

Research has also suggested that there is a link between folic acid and reducing the amount of homocysteine in your blood vessels. What is homocysteine you may ask? Homocysteine is an amino acid that is found in the blood it is a chemical that can irritate the lining your blood vessels. Therefore it properly won’t surprise you that it is associated with conditions affecting the heart such as heart disease or heart attacks and strokes. While there is research to prove that folic acid can reduce the amount of homocysteine there is no research available yet to suggest reducing the amounts specifically affects your chances of developing heart disease or strokes.

You can download this guide at: The A State of Health Clinic’s Website.

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