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The Importance of Folic Acid

By Paul Rothbart

When it comes to nutrition, most people are aware of the importance of all the vitamins. They generally also know about many of the minerals such as calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and zinc. There are other nutrients that are less commonly known, that are nevertheless extremely important. One of these is folic acid. This is a synthesized form of folate, which is Vitamin B9. It is used to fortify supplements and other foods to ensure you get enough folate. It has many health benefits.

Red Blood Cells

Folate assists with the vital job of creating new red blood cells. These are the cells that carry oxygen to every part of the body. Having too few of them brings on anemia, which is insufficient oxygen in the body's cells. It causes weakness in the muscles, fatigue, and a pale color in the skin. There is a form of anemia called folate deficiency anemia and is a good reason to be sure to get enough of this nutrient.

Importance for Pregnant Women

When carrying a child, it is important for the expectant mother to get enough folate. A deficiency can cause irregularities in the neural tubes of the fetus. A premature birth and other problems such as a cleft palate and heart irregularities can result. It is always recommended that women of childbearing age who plan to have children take folic acid supplements and continue to do so during pregnancy. 

Other Benefits of Folic Acid

Folate deficiency may increase the risk of depression. Taking folic acid supplements has been shown to increase the effectiveness of antidepressants. Folic acid is sometimes used in combination with methotrexate to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although it works well as a medication for this disease, methotrexate can remove folate from the body and cause gastrointestinal issues. Studies have found that taking folic acid supplements can reduce this side effect by as much as 79 percent.

Recommended Amounts of Supplements

Folate deficiencies are rare and most people don't need to take supplements. It is recommended by the Office on Women's Health that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant take 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day to help prevent birth defects. People with spina bifida or other conditions relative to neural tube irregularities should take 4,000 micrograms daily.

Folate may not be all well known as other vitamins, but it is extremely important to good health. For this reason, the FDA requires manufacturers of rice, cereal, enriched bread, and other grains to fortify them with folic acid. You are probably getting enough, but if you show any symptoms of deficiency, see your doctor.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Cedar Hill, Tex.

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