Folic acid was originally found in yeast, where it was recognised to be an "anti-Anaemia" factor. Folic acid is a member of the B complex and has the chemical name pteroyl glutamic acid.
Folic acid is unstable to heat, air, water and alkali, and careful cooking methods must be employed to ensure adequate amounts of this vitamin are retained.
Folic acid is needed for many physiological reactions. More specifically, folic acid is needed for the synthesis of DNA and therefore for cell division. It is also involved in the production of the non-essential Amino Acids methionine and glycine.
Folic acid deficiency causes a megaloblastic Anaemia (see vitamin B12). This is often also associated with a diminished number of white blood cells (leucopenia).
Rapidly generating tissues are affected by folic acid deficiency and so the intestinal mucosa may also suffer. In babies and young children, growth may be affected.
Those who are most at risk from folic acid deficiency are as follows:
- The elderly (who tend to have poorer diets or impaired absorption)
- Those with intestinal malabsorption syndromes (particularly steatorrhoea, where the stools contain undigested fat)
- Pregnant women (the developing foetus make considerable demands on the maternal folic acid stores)
Upper safe level for daily supplementation = 400?g
Recommended Daily Allowance = 200?g
Supplements of folic acid (400 ?g per day) are highly advisable prior to conception as well as in the first twelve weeks of Pregnancy, as low folic acid intake is strongly associated with the birth defect spina bifida (1).
Folic acid supplements must be used under medical supervision for the treatment of diagnosed megaloblastic Anaemia, as folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency (2) (see under vitamin B12 section). Normally, folic acid is only prescribed after vitamin B12 has already failed to bring a response.
Alcoholics may benefit from a supplement of folic acid as they tend to have depleted levels of this vitamin (3).
Coronary Heart Disease:
Recent research shows that folic acid supplements may offer protection against heart problems in later life by maintaining low blood homocysteine levels (4).
The overall risk from folic acid mega-dosing is deemed very slight.
INTERACTIONS AND CONTRA-INDICATIONS
As previously mentioned, folic acid supplements taken by people with developing vitamin B12 deficiency may obscure a correct diagnosis and delay the appropriate treatment.
Very high folic acid intakes may also result in disturbed Zinc absorption.
Certain drugs used in the treatment of cancer (e.g. methotrexate) are specifically designed to inhibit folic acid. People being given these drugs should therefore only take folic acid containing supplements under strict medical supervision.
Folic acid should not be taken with anti-convulsant drugs unless directed by a medical doctor.
Brewer?s yeast 2400
Wheat bran 260
Pig?s liver 110
Leafy green vegetables 90
Bread, wholemeal 39
Bread, white 27
Fish, fatty 26
1. Butterworth CE Jr and Bendich A. Folic acid and the prevention of birth defects. Annu Rev Nutr, 16:73-97, 1996.
2. Matthews JH. Cobalamin and folate deficiency in the elderly. Baillieres Clin Haematol, 8;3:679-697, 1995.
3. Cravo ML et al. Hyperhomocysteinemia in chronic Alcoholism: correlation with folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 status. Am J Clin Nutr, 63;2:220-224, 1996.
4. Lowering blood homocysteine with folic acid based supplements: meta-analysis of randomised trials, 316:894-8, 1998.