Folic acid is a vitamin that participates in many important metabolic processes in the body. It is also known as folate or vitamin B9. The name is derived from the Latin word “folium”, which means “leaf (plant)”.
It is found in high concentrations in green plants such as spinach and cabbage. The vitamin is sensitive to external influences such as heat, light, and oxygen. Therefore, products containing folic acid should be handled and stored carefully.
The vital (essential) vitamin was first isolated in 1941.
What is folic acid?
Folate is the term used to refer to all substances that the body can use as vitamins, that is, substances that can be converted into vitamins. This also includes folic acid, which is only converted to bioactive methyltetrahydrofolate or methyl folate in the body.
It is an essential substance, which means that humans have to take it with food, either the vitamin itself or a precursor, a so-called provitamin.
As a water-soluble vitamin, folate plays an important role in all growth processes that take place in the human body, especially for cell division and replication of genetic material. Vitamin is also necessary for the metabolism of amino acids (amino acids = basic components of proteins).
When is it used?
Especially in the bone marrow, cell division is in full swing because a large part of the blood cells is formed here, which are constantly renewed. Therefore, a folate deficiency primarily affects the blood count.
If the body, which can only store the vitamin in very small quantities, has depleted its reserves, anemia develops.
Pregnant women are often advised to replace them with folic acid tablets. It is even recommended to take it before pregnancy. This guarantees a sufficient level of vitamins in the body when pregnancy occurs, and this is very important: the lack of folic acid in pregnancy can lead to a so-called neural tube defect in the fetus.
The term includes embryonic malformations of the central nervous system, such as the open back (spina bifida) and anencephaly (underdevelopment of the brain).
It is also suspected that folic acid deficiency favors premature babies and is involved in the development of heart defects. Therefore, women are strongly advised to take folic acid when they want to have children.
According to current studies, folate deficiency also has an impact on the development of cardiovascular diseases.
The so-called homocysteine level in the blood can be reduced with the help of a combination of folic acid and vitamin B12, which has a positive effect in preventing hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis).
This is how it is used
The recommended daily intake for adults is 400 micrograms. The amounts of up to about 1,000 micrograms are harmless because the water-soluble vitamin is excreted through the kidneys.
At higher doses, damage to the nervous system cannot be excluded due to concealment of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
People who consume large amounts of alcohol have a greater need for folic acid.
Folic acid and pregnancy
For women who wish to have children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers, the recommended intake is 800 micrograms per day. Ideally, appropriate vitamin preparations should begin before pregnancy or in the first four weeks.
What are the side effects?
Side effects are usually only observed after an overdose. Too much vitamin can cause excitement, nausea, and gastrointestinal disorders.
In general, folic acid side effects occur very rarely. If an overdose of folic acid occurs for a longer period of time, depression, nightmares, and epileptic seizures can occur.
What you should consider when taking the vitamin
Certain medications should not be used with folic acid tablets. These include, for example, certain anti-infective or antimalarial medications (such as trimethoprim, proguanil, and pyrimethamine), as well as some cancer medications, such as methotrexate and fluorouracil.
If there is uncertainty about possible interactions between the preparation of vitamins and other medications, you should contact a doctor or pharmacist.
What else should you know?
Adequate intake of the vitamin through food is important at all ages. As an excellent natural source, experts recommend foods such as cabbage (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), spinach, asparagus, and summer salads.
Other foods with folic acid in large quantities are tomatoes, oranges, whole-grain baked goods, wheat germ, soybeans, potatoes, eggs, some cheeses, and liver. However, women should avoid eating liver during pregnancy, since this food contains a lot of vitamin A, which can harm an unborn baby.
Despite being informed, a large percentage of people do not ingest enough vitamins in their daily diet; however, experts discuss the mandatory addition of folic acid to foods (such as iodide in table salt).
Until now, a mandatory mixture has not been established, as there are enough vitamin products available. In addition, gynecologists inform pregnant women and women who wish to have children about the importance of adequate folic acid intake, so you should not expect a deficit here.