The Benefits of Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
By: Dr. George Obikoya
Vitamin B9 also called Pteroylglutamic Acid, Folate, or Folacin, is a vitamin of the B complex group that is essential for the metabolic processes going on in our body. In humans, folic acid is necessary for the synthesis of nucleic acids and the formation of heme, the pigmented, iron-carrying component of the hemoglobin in red blood cells. A deficient intake of folic acid can impair the maturation of young red blood cells, resulting in folic-acid-deficiency anemia.
Folic acid essential for efficient neural tube development during pregnancy which forms the brain and spinal cord. Pregnant women with an insufficient intake of folic acid are more likely to give birth prematurely or to deliver babies with low birth weight or with neural tube defects. The sulfa drugs are thought to achieve their antimicrobial effects by interfering with the production of folic acid within bacteria.
'Neural tube defects', such as spina bifida, in babies appear to be linked to a 'metabolic defect' in folate metabolism in the mother. This means that, even though the mother may have an adequate dietary intake of folic acid, her body cannot use it efficiently.
Taking extra folic acid at the time when the neural tube is forming can reduce the chance of the baby having a neural tube defect. However, the neural tube is formed very early during pregnancy - about a month after conception.
Between the 17th and 30th day after conception (or 4 to 6 weeks after the first day of a woman's last menstrual period), the neural tube forms in the embryo (developing baby) and then closes. The neural tube later becomes the baby's spinal cord, spine, brain, and skull.
A neural tube defect (NTD) occurs when the neural tube fails to close properly, leaving the developing brain or spinal cord exposed to the amniotic fluid. The two most common neural tube defects are anencephaly and spina bifida. Spina bifida and anencephaly are birth defects that occur in the first four weeks of pregnancy, before most women know that they are pregnant. Because about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it is important to include 400 micrograms of folic acid in every childbearing age woman's diet.
Women are advised to take folic acid prior to conception and to
continue taking folic acid supplements until the 12th week of pregnancy.
In addition, folic acid is essential for the formation of red blood
cells and has been shown to reduce the levels of an amino acid (homocysteine).
This reduction may have a protective effect against heart disease.
The recommended amount of folic acid to prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects is 400 micrograms (0.4 milligram) of synthetic folic acid daily. This can be consumed in Two ways: Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid or take single pill of 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Folic acid pills are small and easy to swallow.
Folic acid has no known toxic level. If you were to eat a bowl of fully fortified cereal ( 400 micrograms), take 400 micrograms (0.4 milligram) folic acid supplement, and eat fortified foods and foods rich in folate, women of reproductive age would not have a problem with too much folic acid.
Even in very high amounts folic acid is non-toxic. Nevertheless, it is recommended that women consume no more than 1,000 micrograms of synthetic folic acid a day. Large amounts of folic acid may hide the ability to quickly diagnose a rare vitamin B-12 deficiency, pernicious anemia.
This condition primarily affects the elderly population and, in some cases, can lead to neurological damage. Today, doctors can use a simple definitive test to check for a B-12 deficiency.
We all need folic acid supplements. Older people (over 55) and those who consume large amounts of alcohol need to take even more folic acid supplements.
High levels of the amino acid homocysteine are independently associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. It has been shown that taking folic acid lowers homocysteine levels in both men and women, but it is not yet known whether folic acid supplementation also lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
There are some indications that folic acid use may also reduce the risk for other birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate and certain congenital heart defects.
Folic acid may also play a role in protecting against some forms of cancer and heart disease. Decreased blood levels of folic acid are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer in women.1 Long-term supplementation with folic acid from a multivitamin has been found in one large population study to be associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. However, 15 years of supplementation was necessary before a significant reduction in colon-cancer risk became apparent. In that study, folic acid from dietary sources alone was associated with a modest reduction in the risk of colon cancer.2
A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.
1. Kato I, Dnistrian AM, Schwartz M, et al. Serum folate, homocysteine and colorectal cancer risk in women: a nested case-control study. Br J Cancer 1999;79:1917-21.
2. Giovannucci E, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, et al. Multivitamin use, folate and colon cancer in women in the Nurse's Health Study. Ann Intern Med 1998;129:517-24.