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Folic acid or vitamin B9, is one of the vitamins that is part of the hydrosoluble vitaminms. Even though this substance is necessary in cellular maintenance and development (mainly blood cells), its function is more widely known to support fettus development and growth. Hence women with a vegetable deficient diet benefit from folic acid supplementation.
All cells in the body need folic acid to produce and regenerate DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Without the ability to generate DNA, the body cannot produce new cells for the healing of wounds.
When DNA is damaged and cannot be repaired, the body becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to disease. Folic acid is essential for the normal functioning of the body.
Among the additional benefits of folic acid we can also mention that it also helps prevent complications during pregnancy, reduces the risk of strokes and reduces high homocysteine levels.
What is folic acid?
B vitamins are water soluble substances, so it is important to take folic acid in food or as a supplement to be sure of an adequate quantity.
Folic acid plays a basic role in all processes of growth and development and is therefore especially important during pregnancy. Folic acid also helps the metabolism to 'delete' vascular homocysteine, a substance whose levels are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
There are many people who have a deficiency of this vitamin, even in developed countries like ours.
Folate is the synthetic form of this vitamin and can be found in various fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, bananas, mushrooms, okra, and asparagus The chemical structure of folate is virtually identical to the structure of synthetic folic acid. The only difference is that the structure of folate is missing a hydrogen atom.
However this difference between folate and folic acid does not affect the efficacy of folate and both benefit the body in the same way.
Provided through food supplements, folic acid is used by the body almost in its entirety.
The health benefits of folic acid
Folic acid is recommended in the following cases:
- Before and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects
- When suffering from anemia due to folic acid deficiency
- For a folic acid deficiency caused by medication.
- Folate absorption disorders in the intestine (malabsorption syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, alcohol abuse)
- With cardiovascular diseases
- When there is risk of thrombosis, strokes and heart attacks
- In brain dysfunction (poor memory, dementia, depression, Alzheimer's disease)
- To promote the healing of wounds
- When there is a risk of infection
- To prevent cell degeneration
Folic acid and cardiovascular health
It has been shown that folic acid reduces homocysteine blood levels. Homocysteine is a molecule with a structure similar to cysteine, an amino acid that can be found in enzymes and proteins.
Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood is related to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) as well as an increased risk of bringing about heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, etc
Folic acid can reduce the occurence of cardiovascular diseases by controlling the level of homocysteine in the blood.
Clinical research has shown that this can be reduced by between 20% to 30%, slightly elevating homocysteine in the blood to a normal level, simply by taking a folic acid dietary supplement.
Folic acid and cerebrovascular attacks
The multiple benefits of folic acid include protection from heart attacks and strokes.
In a clinical study published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association", more than 20,000 adults who had high blood pressure were investigated in China.
- China, unlike the United States and Europe, does not have foods fortified with folic acid.
- The participants in the study were divided into two groups: one group took a pill containing folic acid and a high blood pressure medication, while the other group took a pill containing only one active ingredient for hypertension.
- The average duration for treatment of participants was 4.5 years.
- The study showed that participants who had taken folic acid and a drug for hypertension suffered strokes at a rate of 2.7%, while the participants who did not take folic acid had increased this percentage by 3.4%.
- This study therefore shows that taking folic acid supplements along with medications for high blood pressure, reduces the risk of strokes.
Folic acid and fertility
It has been shown that folic acid increases female fertility. Starting in 2006 a clinical study was conducted with 18,500 pregnant women over an eight year period.
This study found that women who took a multivitamin containing folic acid over six days a week were 40 percent more likely to become pregnant compared with women who did not take supplements.
In addition, a 2014 study published in the journal "Reproductive Biomedicine", demonstrated that the use of folic acid by women with fertility problems raises the chances of success with in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
In conclusion, research shows that folic acid supplements increase fertility in women and the chances of success for in-vitro fertilization.
Folic acid and pregnancy
Folate deficiency causes the following symptoms: diarrhea, anemia, shortness of breath, mental confusion, headaches and numbness.
In the case of pregnant women, folic acid deficiency may have serious consequences, such as a miscarriage, complications during pregnancy and childbirth as well as deficiencies in the foetus, neural tube defects during the growth of the embryo for example.
During the third week of pregnancy, the embryo cells form the neural tube, which then becomes the baby's brain and spinal cord. Damage to the neural tube at this stage prevents the normal development of the foetus and can cause severe defects, which include spina bifida, anencephaly (failure to develope a full brain) and iniencephaly (a disorder that causes serious neck problems).
In Europe and the United States the enrichment of some foods with folic acid has helped reduce the incidence of defects in the neural tube in the general population. However, for still-pregnant women is supplement your diet with folic acid intake to ensure the healthy development of the foetus.
Who should take folic acid supplements?
- Women, before and after pregnancy
- People who suffer from folate deficiency
- People with high levels of homocysteine
- People who have a kidney disease or high blood pressure
- Alzheimer's patients
- People who have cardiovascular and circulatory diseases
What are the side effects of folic acid?
Folic acid side effects are minimal and virtually non-existent, provided the prescribed dose.
Folic acid interactions
Folic acid should not be mixed with certain drugs which are used to treat seizures. These medications include fosphenytoin, phenobarbital and phenytoin. Those taking methotrexate, should also avoid taking folic acid, since both substances mutually neutralise their effects.
Recommended dose of folic acid
The dosage varies depending on personal circumstances. The recommended daily dose for pregnant women who want to prevent neural tube defects is 400 microgrammes (mcg). In the case of people who want to lower their homocysteine levels in the blood the recommended dose is 0, 8 - 1 mg/day (milligrammes per day).
According to experts on folic acid:
The widespread (and undetected) lack of folic acid
In a recent report health authorities have been alerted to the fact that approximately 90% of the population suffers from a folate deficiency. In women, this percentage is up to 99%.
The fact that women suffer from this folic acid deficiency is even more dangerous if we take into account that it has a direct impact on malformations of newborn babies As pediatricians state "if we could overcome folate deficiencies prior to pregnancy, 70% of foetus malformations could be avoided".
Folic acid rejuvenates the brain
As was revealed in a study by various European universities, older people who take the recommended amount of folic acid fully maintain their mental capacity for longer. This vitamin works against intellectual ageing.
Researchers have found that doubling the recommended dose of folic acid has a positive effect on memory, as was demonstrated at the annual Alzheimer's Association Congress, held in Washington. In the survey of 800 people aged between 50 and 75, the participants took 800 mg of folic acid or a placebo for close to three years. An intelligence test showed that people who took folic acid had a memory functioning as if were younger, in a percentage of 5.5 years younger with respect to those who took the placebo.
Increasing the intake of folic acid is good for the heart and the brain
Experts state that all the possible benefits that nutritional medicine can provide are not being taken advantage of for the prevention of diseases. Nutritionists advise taking dietary supplements of folic acid, not only due to the fact that folic acid can prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy, but also because it significantly reduces cardiovascular risk.