Folic Acid and FolateFolic acid and folate are required by the body for the synthesis of red blood cells. They are the form of water-soluble B-complex vitamin and are used to prevent or treat folic acid deficiency and for pregnancy complications prevention. Folic acid deficiency can also cause certain type of anemia where the red blood cell count goes low. Folate occurs naturally in food like spinach, okra, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, bananas, lemons, melons, legumes, cereals, baked foods, yeast, mushrooms, organ meat (beef liver, kidney), tomato juice and orange juice. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate used in combination with other vitamin B-complex formulations.
Folic acid, folate and health
- Poor dietary intake of folate can lead to its deficiency. Folic acid supplementation is effective in the treatment of megaloblastic and macrocytic anemia caused due to folic acid deficiency.
- Oral folic acid supplementation and diet rich in folate prevents its deficiency and anemia in pregnant women and neural tube birth defects in infants.
- Rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis patients treated on long-term, low dose of methotrexate may benefit from folate or folic acid supplementation.
- The diet of alcoholics does not suffice the folate requirement; moreover alcohol interferes with folate absorption in the body leading to its increased excretion via kidney. These factors can lead to folate deficiency in alcoholics and can be corrected by oral folic acid supplementation along with high folate diet.
- Tropical application of folic acid may inhibit overgrowth of gum tissue (gingival hyperplasia) and gingivitis in pregnant women.
- Folic acid may play a role in lowering homocysteine levels thus reducing the risk of vascular diseases.
- Folic acid supplementation along with vitamin B-12 may help to improve vitiligo symptoms.
Side effects of folic acid and folate
Individual with seizure disorders, high level of folic acid may increase the risk of seizures.
- Folic acid when taken in recommended doses is well tolerated; however alopecia, zinc depletion, myelosupression and stomatitis have been reported.
- Combination of folic acid, vitamin B-12 and vitamin B-6 should not be administered orally or in intravenous form to patients receiving coronary stents as it may increase restenosis rate.
- Folic acid can mask anemia symptoms caused due to vitamin B-12 deficiency (pernicious, aplastic or normocytic).
- Other side effects that are reported include nausea, erythema, skin flushing, cramps, flatulence, bloating, itching, diarrhea, rash, pruritus, irritability, altered sleep patterns, excitability, vivid dreaming, confusion, over activity, excitability, impaired judgment, anaphylaxis, bronchospasm, psychotic behavior and central nervous system side effects.
Folic acid supplements tend to react with many drugs, so it is advisable to start folic acid supplementation in recommended levels under the guidance of a health care professional.