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Vitamin B9 - folic acid

Folic acid is a synthetic, water-soluble vitamin used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.

This is an artificial version of folate, a naturally occurring vitamin B found in many foods. Your body cannot produce folate, so it needs to be obtained from food.

Although the words folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, these forms of the vitamin differ. Synthesized folic acid is structurally different from folate and has slightly different biological effects on the body. Nevertheless, both are considered to contribute to an adequate dietary intake.

Folate is found in many plant and animal foods, including spinach, kale, broccoli, avocados, citrus fruits, eggs and beef liver.

On the other hand, folic acid is added to foods such as flour, breakfast cereals and bread. Folic acid is also sold in concentrated form in dietary supplements. Your body uses folate for a wide range of important functions, including the following processes:

  • Synthesis, repair and methylation - adding a methyl group to a double helix of DNA
  • cell division
  • Conversion of homocysteine ​​to methionine, an amino acid used for protein synthesis or to S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a compound that acts as the primary methyl group donor in your body and is required for many cell conversions
  • red blood cell maturation
  • Folate is involved in many vital metabolic processes, and deficiency leads to a number of negative health outcomes, including megaloblastic anemia, increased risk of heart disease, and some cancers.

Folate deficiency has several causes, including the following:

  • poor diet
  • diseases or operations affecting folate absorption in the digestive system, including celiac disease, gastric bypass and short bowel syndrome
  • achlorhydria or hypochlorhydria (absence or low production of stomach acid)
  • Drugs that affect folate absorption, including methotrexate and sulfasalazine
  • alcoholism
  • pregnancy
  • hemolytic anemia
  • dialysis

Many countries, including the United States, require cereals to be fortified with folic acid to reduce the incidence of folate deficiency.

This is because folate deficiency is quite common and some populations, including older adults and pregnant women, find it difficult to get the recommended dietary intake.


Recommended input levels

Folate stores in the body range between 10-30 mg, most of which is stored in the liver and the rest in the blood and tissues. Normal blood folate levels are between 5-15 ng / ml. The main form of blood folate is called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate.

Dietary folate equivalents are a unit of measurement that takes into account differences in folic acid and folate absorption.

Synthetic folic acid is thought to have 100% absorption when consumed on an empty stomach, while folic acid, found in fortified foods, is only 85% absorbed. Natural folate has a much lower absorption, about 50%.

Taked as a dietary supplement, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate has the same - if not slightly greater - bioavailability than folic acid supplements.

Recommended doses of folic acid for infants, children and adolescents:

From birth to 6 months: 65 mcg DFE
Age 7-12 months: 80 mcg DFE
Age 1-3: 150 mcg DFE
Age 4-8: 200 mcg DFE < br /> Age 9–13 years: 300 mcg DFE
Age 14–18: 400 mcg DFE


Benefits and uses

Although folic acid and folate supplements are commonly used to treat the same conditions, they have different effects on the body and can therefore affect health in different ways.

The following are the most common benefits and uses of folic acid and folate supplements.


Prevention of congenital defects and complications of pregnancy

One of the most common uses of folic acid and folate supplements is to prevent birth defects, especially neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly - when a baby is born without parts of the brain or skull.

Maternal folic acid status is a predictor of the risk of neural tube defects, which has led to national public health policies regarding folic acid supplementation for women who are or may become pregnant.

For example, the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of national disease prevention experts, recommends adding 400-800 mcg of folic acid daily to all women planning to become pregnant or able to conceive, starting at least 1 month.

Folic acid supplements are prescribed to pregnant women to prevent birth defects and can help prevent pregnancy-related complications, including preeclampsia.

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