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Folate Deficiency Complications

Updated on January 14, 2014
Citrus fruits are good sources of folate. Photo by Evan Amos- Wikimedia commons
Citrus fruits are good sources of folate. Photo by Evan Amos- Wikimedia commons

The human body can store only a very limited amount of folate. This makes it very easy for us to develop folate deficiency after just a few weeks of insufficient intake.

We all need folate. It helps maintain cardiovascular health, it helps in stress and mood, improves blood health, promotes the immune system, is involved in cell replication and tissue growth and helps control Homocysteine (an amino acid found in the blood).

Common Causes of Folate Deficiency

One of the most common causes is insufficient dietary intake. If your diet is lacking folate, you will quickly run out of the folate in your body. You will start developing signs and symptoms of deficiency in folate.

Alcoholics have a very high risk of being deficient in folate. People who consume alcohol for breakfast, lunch and dinner can go several days without actually eating any thing healthy. They do not feel hungry because alcohol contains calories which can be used as energy. But because they are not eating healthy, their folate store is not being replenished. This will lead to deficiency in folate.

A medications known as Dihydrofolate reductase inhibitors can also cause deficiency by preventing the enzyme Dihydrofolate reductase from functioning. This action inhibits folate metabolism and will eventually result to reduced folate in the body.

The interaction between drug and folate may be a concern for individuals who require antibiotics for a long period of time. Some of these medications can decrease folate absorption in the body. Folate deficiency is less of a concern for most people who require antibiotics only for a couple of weeks. It is best you discuss this with your doctor.

Signs and Symptoms of Folate Deficiency

The Signs and symptoms include Megaloblastic anaemia, Macrocytic red blood cells, Sore tongue also known as Glossitis or Stomatitis. During pregnancy, deficiency increases the risk of neurological complications (brain or spinal cord defects - Spina Bifida) inside the womb.

You can fix this deficiency by supplementing with folate and consuming foods that are high in folate.

Folate Deficiency Prevention

Sometimes diet alone is not enough to get sufficient folate. Women of child bearing age should include folate rich foods in their diet and also supplement with folate in order to prevent neurological complications in the womb during pregnancy.

Folate in food is highly sensitive to destruction by heat. Cooking can destroy most of the natural folate in food while overcooking can destroy all of it. For this reason, it is best not to overcook your vegetables.

Folate in food is also highly sensitive to air. When you store your vegetables at room temperature for a long period of time, you risk losing all the folate they contain. For this reason, it is best to consume your vegetables as soon as possible after you get them home from the supermarket.

Folate-rich foods
Folate-rich foods | Source

Sources of Dietary folate

Make sure you have an adequate amount of folate in your diet. Folate is found in a wide variety of food. Green leafy vegetables are excellent sources.

Other very good sources of dietary folate include spinach, lettuce, onion, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, eggplant, okra, asparagus, peppers, tomato, avocado, carrots, corn, pork, liver, poultry, shellfish, beans, peanuts, citrus fruits, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, bananas and papaya.

You can supplement with folate if your dietary intake of folate is not enough.

Watch out for too much Folic Acid

From the way people talk about folate, you might think that folate and folic acid are the same. Folic acid is the man-made (synthetic) version of folate (vitamin B9). The actual vitamin in food is folate not folic acid. Folic acid (Synthetic) is very well absorbed by the body. Studies have shown that our body has only enough enzymes to convert some of these folic acid molecules to folates. These still leaves us with a lot of folic acid in our blood circulation. So if taken in excess, you have excessive amounts of unmetabolized folic acid in circulation.

Do you know the difference between folic acid and folate?
Do you know the difference between folic acid and folate? | Source

As you know, folate acid has been used for many years now for the fortification of processed food and has appeared to have conferred public health benefits. However, it has been proven in many studies that taking excessive amounts of folic acid can increase the risk of cancer, especially in people having a family history of cancer. Folic acid decreases Natural Killer Cells. Natural killer cells are directly responsible for suppressing cancer formation.

The maximum limit of folic acid intake is 400 ug per day. You can easily go over the this limit if you are taking folic acid supplements and in the same period consuming too much processed food that has been fortified with folic acid. Be careful not to exceed the maximum amount of folic acid intake per day to avoid excess unmetabolized folic acid in your bloodstream.

Some companies are now moving away from the production of folic acid supplements towards natural folate forms. Please read not only the labels of processed food but also those of the supplements (multivitamins) you are taking.

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