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Vitamin B9, folic acid or folate is an essential water soluble nutrient. Folate occurs naturally in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin.
The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and methylate DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in many biological processes.
It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy. Children and adults require folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Vitamin B9 is important for normal nerve and brain functioning, and it may help reduce
Folic acid may also help slow memory decline associated with aging.
Pregnant women have an increased need for folic acid, which supports the growth of the placenta and fetus, and helps to prevent several types of birth defects, especially those of the brain and spine (neural tube defects).
Pregnant women who don't consume enough folate are also more likely to have babies who have low birthweight or are premature.
Folate and folic acid derive their names from the Latin word folium (meaning "leaf"). Leafy vegetables are a principal source, although in Western diets fortified cereals and bread may be a larger dietary source.
Foods high in folate include leafy vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, turnip greens and lettuce, legumes such as dried or fresh beans, peas and lentils, egg yolks, Baker's yeast, fortified grain products (pasta, cereal, bread), and sunflower seeds. Liver and liver products contain high amounts of folate. Here is a list of foods having the highest content of folate.
The recommended daily intake is as follows: Adults: 400 micrograms, Pregnant women: 600 micrograms, Breastfeeding women: 500 micrograms.
A lack of dietary folic acid leads to folate deficiency, which is uncommon in normal Western diets.
Deficiency can result in many health problems, the most notable one being neural tube defects in developing embryos.
Common symptoms of folate deficiency include diarrhea, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness (peripheral neuropathy), pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive declines, mental depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders.
Low levels of folate can also lead to homocysteine accumulation, impaired DNA synthesis and repair, and this could lead to cancer development.
Folic acid has few side effects, even when taken in high amounts.
Although the folic acid itself is not a problem, supplemental folic acid can mask symptoms of pernicious anemia, a potentially fatal disease which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12.
Very high doses (above 15,000 micrograms) can cause stomach problems, sleep disturbances, skin reactions, and seizures.
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