One of the 8 B vitamins is vitamin B9, also called folate or folic acid. Both B vitamins enable the body to transform food (carbohydrates) to fuel (glucose), which is used for energy production. These B vitamins, often referred to as vitamins in the B-complex, also help the body use fats and protein. A healthy liver needs B-complex vitamins, and good skin, hair, and teeth.
Folate is the primary source of vitamin B9 and is water-soluble and is present naturally in many foods. It is also added to food and marketed in the form of folic acid as a supplement; in addition, this amount is better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively.
Folic acid is essential to the normal development of the brain and plays a significant part in behavioral and emotional wellbeing. It aids in the development of DNA and RNA, the genetic material of the organism, and is especially important as cells and tissues develop rapidly, for example in puberty, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Sources of Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
The body’s ability to consume, use, and maintain folate varies, and is difficult to quantify, among foods. There are 150 different types of folate, and losses can occur between 50 and 90 percent during preparation, transportation, or processing. Green vegetables, legumes, and liver are among the best sources of folate.
Good sources of folate are :
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Beef liver
- Brewer’s yeast
- Root vegetables
- Whole grains
- Mung beans
- Orange juice
Folic acid fortifies both grain and cereal goods.
Benefits of Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Cancer – Folate plays a key role in the development of cells and in the formation of DNA, the complex molecule that shapes our genetic program. Folate is known to play a role in both suppressing many forms of early cancer and in the development of proven cancers if large doses of folic acid are used.
Folic acid tends to guard against the production of some types of cancer in the diet including:
- Cervical cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Breast cancer
- stomach cancer
Heart Disease – Folate and vitamin B12 play important roles in transforming homocysteine into methionine, one of the nearly 20 building blocks the body produces new proteins from. Without adequate folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, this cycle of conversion is inefficient, which raises homocysteine levels. Since these early findings on homocysteine, most but not all of the studies have associated elevated homocysteine rates with a moderate rise in heart disease and stroke risk.
Most people who worry about heart disease should focus on having enough B vitamins from nutritious eating. Your doctor may, however, prescribe taking B vitamins to reduce homocysteine levels in certain cases. If you are anxious about cardiovascular disease, ask your doctor if taking a vitamin B supplement is appropriate for you.
Depression – There’s mixed evidence of whether folic acid can help relieve depression. Some studies show that 15 to 38 percent of people with depression have low levels of folate in their bodies and the most depressed are those with very low levels. One research showed that folic acid was small in patients who did not feel better after taking antidepressants.
Birth Defect – It is more likely that pregnant women who do not get enough folic acid may have babies with birth defects. Pregnant women will get a folic acid intake of 600 mcg a day. People preparing to become pregnant should make sure they get the necessary 400 mcg daily because many neural tube defects will occur soon after birth and even before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Dementia and cognitive function – A link between high levels of homocysteine and increased incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Homocysteine can adversely affect the brain by causing the brain and nerve cells to have a lack of blood. Some retrospective studies have established a correlation between low folate blood levels and higher dementia risk.
Daily Requirement of Vitamin B9 (Folate)
The Suggested Dietary Allowance for folate is classified as dietary folate equivalent (DFE) micrograms (mcg). Men and women aged 19 and over will target for DFE of 400 mcg. Pregnant and lactating women require DFE of 600 mcg and DFE of 500 mcg, respectively. People who drink alcohol regularly should aim for at least 600 mcg DFE of folate daily, as alcohol can impair its absorption.
The average daily dosage unlikely to cause adverse side effects in the general population is a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). The adult UL for folic acid from fortified foods or supplements (not including dietary folate) is estimated at 1000 mcg per day.
Deficiency of Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Not eating enough folate in just a few weeks will result in a deficiency. Deficiency can also occur if you have a disorder or genetic defect that stops the body from processing folate into its functional form or transforming it.
The following factors could place people at greater risk:
- Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease may decrease folate absorption. Surgeries affecting the digestive organs, or reducing normal stomach acid levels, can also interfere with absorption.
- Lack of folate can cause anemia. Anemia is a disease you have too few RBCs of. Anemia can deprive your tissues of the oxygen it requires because the oxygen is carried by RBCs. It can be influencing their work.
- During pregnancy, the need for folate increases, as it plays a part in the growth of fetal cells.
- Signs of deficiency can include exhaustion, nausea, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, concentration problems, hair loss, pale skin, mouth sores.
Risk of Overdose
You can only take dietary supplements under the supervision of a professional health care provider because of the risk of adverse effects and problems with drugs.
Side effects from folic acid are uncommon at the prescribed daily dose. Very high doses can cause:
- Loss of appetite
- Skin reaction
- Sleep problems
- Stomach problems
Individuals treated for epilepsy or tumors should not take folic acid without contacting their physicians.