Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin of group B and plays an important role in body functions both in children and adults. It is needed for vital chemical reactions that stimulate the formation of new cells in tissues and organs of the body and the formation of new red blood cells by the bone marrow. Folic acid is crucial for the health of the nervous system and the metabolism of the protein we accept with our food.
The human body cannot produce folic acid, so we need to take it in sufficient amounts from food.
Food Sources of Folic Acid
It is important to make sure that we take enough folic acid regardless of our age. This is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as this vitamin deficiency can adversely affect both mother and baby. To make sure that we get enough folic acid it is recommended to regularly consume the following products.
Green Leafy Vegetables: Our diet should include spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce. Peas and legumes are also good sources of folic acid.
Orange Juice: Fresh oranges and orange juice are also good choices. A glass of orange juice can provide from 60 to 100 mcg of folic acid. Other rich sources among fruits include melons.
Fortified Ccereals and Bread: Most of the commercially manufactured breakfast cereals and breads contain added folic acid. Per serving, they can provide 100 to 400 mcg of folic acid. To make sure that you buy the right products, you should carefully read the label.
Pasta: Many types of pasta have been fortified with folic acid. Just half a portion of this Italian dish can provide us with up to 90 mcg of this important substance.
Legumes, Seeds and Nuts: Legumes are a good source of folic acid providing 180 mcg per serving. Most seeds and nuts are also a good alternative, including peanut butter.
Deficiency of Folic Acid
Folic acid deficiency is a serious health problem that is quite common, particularly for pregnant and nursing mothers and the elderly people. Another reason for the lack of this substance is the intake of certain medications, alcohol abuse and diseases, which violate the absorbent functions of the body – such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Symptoms of folic acid deficiency are expressed in fatigue, irritability, slow stream of thought, gingivitis (inflammation and bleeding of the gums), diarrhea and inflammation of the tongue. In children, this condition can lead to stunting. These symptoms can show that there are serious complications due to folic acid deficiency, some of which are as follows.
Anemia: Folic acid is needed to produce red blood cells. When the levels of this substance are low, we have a shortage of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anemia include pale skin, fatigue, sore mouth and tongue, headache and poor concentration. Treatment may consist in the intake of dietary supplements with folic acid, dietary changes and / or transfusion of blood with red blood cells.
Birth Defects: For women who intend to become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy it is important to get enough folic acid in the diet or supplementation. Folic acid deficiency can cause neural pathways defects of the fetus, the most serious of which is the damage of the nervous system and spinal cord, anencephaly where there is a deformation of the brain and skull, or even missing parts. Low levels of folic acid during pregnancy can cause premature birth and dangerous low birth weight of the newborn baby.
Recommended Daily Intake of Folic Acid
- Adults and children over 14 years of age should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
- Babies and toddlers aged 1 to 3 years need 150 mcg daily.
- For children between 4 and 13 years the required dose is 200 mcg.
- Women planning to become pregnant should try to accept 400 mcg, and during pregnancy – 600 mcg of folic acid.
- For nursing women, the recommended daily dose is 500 mcg.
If you cannot get all the required quantity of this substance in the diet, you should begin to take supplements with folic acid.
Side Effects of Folic Acid
Toxicity of folic acid is rare, since the kidneys cleanse the excess amounts with the urine. If you take vitamin B, you may notice that your urine becomes of an orange color. This is a normal reaction of the body in an attempt to discharge the excess amounts of folic acid and it does not cause problems. If the body is unable to effectively cleanse the excess, this can lead to poisoning with folic acid. Symptoms include diarrhea, mouth sores, skin irritation, nausea, bloating, cramps, hair loss, mental problems, insomnia or vivid dreams, too. Folic acid poisoning is a very serious problem that requires prompt medical attention.
Intake of folic acid in the diet is important during all stages of life. Its deficiency can lead to some serious disease processes that can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Folic acid is associated with the prevention of some types of cancer and reduces the risk of heart disease. If you experience any of the above symptoms of deficiency, you should consult a doctor and eventually begin to take supplements. Early intervention will lead to a favorable outcome.