Folic acid: Importance, deficiencies, and side effects

Folic acid is a form of vitamin B-9 that can dissolve in water. It is a key ingredient in the making of the nucleic acid that forms part of all genetic material.

It is a complex B vitamin, similar to vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-9 and its forms carry out the crucial functions of creating more red blood cells, preventing hearing loss, and preserving the brain health of infants.

This MNT article will look at the functions of folic acid, as well as where to find it and the effects of folic acid deficiency


Pregnant lady with pills
Folic acid is essential for women who are pregnant.

Vitamin B-9 includes both folate and folic acid and is important for several functions in the body.

According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), folic acid is vital for making red blood cells, as well as:

the synthesis and repair of DNA and RNA

aiding rapid cell division and growth

enhancing brain health, although the evidence is mixed and more research is needed

age-related hearing loss

It is particularly important for women who are pregnant to consume enough folic acid. This helps prevent the fetus from developing major congenital deformities of the brain or spine, including neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Women planning to get pregnant should take folic acid supplements for a full year before conception to reduce the risk of these developments.

Folic acid is thought to play a preventive role in a range of conditions.

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A recent study connected folic acid deficiency with autism. The investigators concluded:

“Periconceptional folic acid [before conception and during early pregnancy] may reduce [autism spectrum disorder] risk in those with inefficient folate metabolism.”

Further research is needed to confirm the link.

Cleft lip and palate

A literature review carried out in 2014 concluded that folic acid supplementation might reduce the risk of a cleft palate.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Folic acid is often used to support a methotrexate prescription for rheumatoid arthritis.

Methotrexate is an effective medicine for this condition. However, it is also known to remove folate from the body. This can cause gastrointestinal symptoms for between 20 and 65 percent of people who use the drug.

However, folic acid supplements have been shown to reduce the gastrointestinal side effects of methotrexate by 79 percent. Speak to a doctor for recommendations on how much to take, and how often. 1 milligram (mg) per day is often prescribed.

Baby eats cucumber next to mother
Folic acid helps protect the bones and brains of infants.

All women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should consume more folic acid, according to March of Dimes, a research organization focused on preventing deformity and death in newborn infants.

They also recommend that women take folic acid before getting pregnant as well as during the first 4 weeks following conception.

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