Folic acid, which is sometimes known as folacin or folate, works with vitamin B12 to protect the nervous system, especially the developina nervous system if the foetus, and to mamifacture red blood cells. Folic acid stimulates appetite and aids digestion, as well as improvina mental and emotional health by its dfict on the nervous system. It is needed for healthy skin and hair.
Availability in food
The best sources of folic acid are fresh green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. However, it is also found in fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains and liver. Folic acid is commonly deficient in the modern Western diet, as light, heat, and storage at room temperature can easily destroy it. Fortunately, the intestinal bacteria can manufacture folic acid, and stores in the liver can last for up to six months.
What if your intake is too low?
Early symptoms are fatigue, apathy or irritability, loss of appetite, acne, a sore tongue, and cracking of the corners of the mouth (this also results from deficiencies of iron, or vitamins B2 or B6). Anaemia develops somewhat later, and in the longer term there are increased risks of osteoporosis, heart attacks if vitamin B6 is also low, and certain cancers, especially of the bowel and cervix.
When extra may be needed
- During pregnancy and lactation
- If the diet contains insufficient fresh food
- While taking the birth-control pill, long-term antibiotics, or hormone replacement therapy
- By children if they drink goats' milk instead of cows'milk
- During stress or illness
- If you have a moderate to high alcohol consumption • If you have psoriasis
(Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consult a doctor, midwife, or qualified nutritional therapist bifore taking any vitamin or mineral supplements.)
Can too much be toxic?
More than 15mg of folic acid taken regularly can cause digestive upset, insomnia and loss of energy. You should consult your doctor before taking folic acid supplements if you take medication for epilepsy, as it alters the way these drugs work, or if you are at risk of pernicious anaemia. This condition tends to occur within families and in older people, and folic acid supplementation should be avoided as it can cause permanent damage to the nerves.
Using a supplement
If you wish to take a supplement, folic acid is best taken as part of a balanced B-vitamin tablet or capsule, unless your doctor or nutritional health practitioner advises otherwise.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
All women are advised to take a small supplement of folic acid during pregnancy to reduce the risk of the baby being born with spina bifida or other serious congenital defects of the nervous system.
During their childbearing years, women should eat a diet rich in folic acid at all times, and ask their doctors about a supplement before they are planning to get pregnant, or as soon as possible'if they are already pregnant. A baby will benefit from a good supply of folic acid, particularly early on in the pregnancy. Adequate folic acid intake is also thought to reduce the likelihood of toxaemia of pregnancy, of haemorrhage and of premature labour.
In addition, it appears to reduce the incidence of 'restless leg syndrome' in late pregnancy, and to enhance the production of breast milk after delivery