Why is Folate so important

Why is Folate so important

Written by: Jamie Fernandez, Content Specialist, B.Sc. in Genetics

Folate is an essential B vitamin, also known as Vitamin B9 and is termed folic acid in its synthetic form as found in dietary supplements and fortified foods. This very important molecule plays major roles in cellular function. 

Daily dose

The daily-recommended dose of folate is 400 micrograms for average adults. However if you wish to go the supplement route, 0.6 micrograms of folic acid consumed with food, or 0.5 mcg supplemental folic acid on an empty stomach is equal to one microgram dietary folate [1]. However, your diet is generally sufficient to obtain the recommend dose of folate and so folate deficiency is rather rare [2]. On the other hand, taking too much folate may also be harmful as this can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency which left untreated can cause damage to the nervous system [3]. 

What does it does it do in your body?

One of the main functions that folate has on genetics is the formation of nucleic acids. Nucleic acids are the building blocks of DNA, they include adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. When new cells are formed, DNA is replicated which requires more and more building block. This makes folate very important for cell replication and survival [4].

 Sources of folate 

As mentioned, your diet should be providing you with all your folate needs, and here are some of the best sources for getting your folate. These include:

    • Asparagus
    • Avocado
    • Banana
    • Beef liver
    • Black-eyed peas
    • Boiled spinach
    • Broccoli
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Canned tomato juice
    • Cantaloupe
    • Dry-roasted peanuts
    • Fortified grains and cereals 
    • Fresh orange and grapefruit
    • Green peas
    • Hard-boiled egg
    • Kidney beans
    • Lettuce
    • Mustard greens
    • Orange juice
    • Papaya [2]

Deficiency 

However, if you are deficient in folate, the symptoms you may experience are similar to those of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can include a form of anemia, as red blood cells cannot function properly with these two important B vitamins. Symptoms of folate deficiency include: 

  • A lack of energy
  • A sore and red tongue
  • Disturbed vision
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pins and needles 
  • Problems with memory, understanding and judgment
  • Psychological problems, which may include depression and confusion 

If you are concerned about a folate deficiency, consider visiting your doctor for a blood test [5]. Those who are most likely to experience folate deviancy include those with alcohol use disorders, conditions that affect nutrient absorption, such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, and those with certain variations in the MTHFR gene [2]. 

MTHFR gene 

As with most traits, your genetics play a role here too. A protein in your body called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) processes folate, and the code for making this protein comes from the MTHFR gene. Genetic variations in this gene can cause an alteration to the MTHFR protein that hinders its ability to process folate effectively [6]. 

Why is it important for women? 

Folate is, of course, a very important vitamin for everyone; however, this vitamin does have great implications for women. If you have ever needed to look closely had a pregnancy supplement, you may have seen that these have high doses of folic acid. Why? Well, low folate during pregnancy has been linked to neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are a class of developmental disorders that include spinal bifida (a condition where the spinal cord does not form correctly) and anencephaly (a condition where parts of the brain and skull do not develop) [7][6]. With this in mind, it is recommended that those who are pregnant, trying to fall pregnant, or breastfeeding should increase their folate intake (either through diet or with folic acid supplements) under the advisement of a doctor [2]. 

References 

[1] R. Pieroth, S. Paver, S. Day, and C. Lammersfeld, “Folate and Its Impact on Cancer Risk,” Curr. Nutr. Rep., vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 70–84, Sep. 2018.

[2] “Folic acid: Importance, deficiencies, and side effects.” [Online]. Available: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219853#who-should-take-it. [Accessed: 26-Aug-2022].

[3] “Vitamins and minerals - B vitamins and folic acid - NHS.” [Online]. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/. [Accessed: 26-Aug-2022].

[4] Y. Zheng and L. C. Cantley, “Toward a better understanding of folate metabolism in health and disease,” J. Exp. Med., vol. 216, no. 2, pp. 253–266, Feb. 2019.

[5] “Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia - NHS.” [Online]. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/. [Accessed: 26-Aug-2022].

[6] “MTHFR Gene, Folic Acid, and Preventing Neural Tube Defects | CDC.” [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/mthfr-gene-and-folic-acid.html. [Accessed: 26-Aug-2022].

[7] “Top 10 Facts About Folic Acid Your Women Patients Should Know.” [Online]. Available: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1340/. [Accessed: 26-Aug-2022].

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