There are a number of crucial vitamins and minerals required for immunity and growth. One such important vitamin is Folic Acid, also known as Folate.
A human body requires folic acid is to form cells such as the Red Blood Cells(RBCs) and DNA. It is also important for the brain, nervous system and spinal fluid. It is particularly required by pregnant women for the development of the fetus. Regular consumption of folate-rich food or folic acid supplements in early pregnancy reduce the risk of premature births, spinal cord problems, such as spina bifida and also reduces the risk of having a baby born with a cleft lip and palate, a heart defect (congenital heart disease). It is advisable to start a diet rich in folate and supplements even before conceiving in case the pregnancy is planned.
Unlike some minerals and vitamins, folic acid cannot be stored for long in the human body, hence the need arises to replenish it frequently. Naturally, it is found as folate in vegetables such as spinach, sprouts, broccoli, green pepper, green beans, beetroot and potatoes. Fruits such as strawberries, bananas, pineapple and Legumes such as soybean, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans are also a rich source of folate. Some wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid. Nuts such as almonds, cashew nuts, walnut and sesame seeds also contain some trace amounts of it.
The most common factors leading to Folic Acid deficiency are inadequate intake in patients with under nutrition or alcoholism, increased demand in pregnancy, lactation and in infancy. Also there may be some impaired absorption due to intake of certain drugs. Also, the folic acid in eatables is perishable and may get destroyed by heat. Thus, some care needs to be taken while cooking or boiling fruits and vegetable containing folate.
Folate deficiency may cause a variety of symptoms such as diarrhea, and depression. Another common disease that it causes is anemia, which can be very dangerous. Folate-deficiency anaemia and iron-deficiency anemia may have similar symptoms of fatigue and weakness. It may also cause digestive disorders such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore tongue, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, forgetfulness or other behavioral disorders.
Folic Acid supplements are available at pharmacies with or without prescription. The ideal dosage recommended for women is 400 micrograms (0.4mg) a day. For pregnant women, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 600 micrograms a day. However, the upper limit for folate intake is 1000 micrograms, whereas some higher doses (up to 5 mg) are recommended for women who earlier have had a baby with a neural tube defect. Also some alarming medical conditions, such as, if one of the partner has a spinal cord defect, or there is an ongoing medication for epilepsy, or obesity – especially if the Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or more, and lastly if one has any coeliac disease, diabetes, sickle cell anaemia, or thalassaemia, may require heavy dosage.
Folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin which a human body requires. It is certainly not a drug (medicine) and completely harmless or non-toxic. However, it should be consumed according to the requirement or medical condition.