Folic acid, also known as folate is one of the key vitamins needed by our body. It is part of the vitamin B complex and is designated as B9. It is found in many natural foods and it is easily absorbed because it is water-soluble. The human body needs it in order to produce new cells, which makes folic acid extremely important.
The B vitamin complex (all B vitamins) plays many roles in our body. They are needed for the production of energy, by converting carbohydrates from food into glucose, which is burned as fuel. B vitamins are also needed for the metabolism of fats and proteins. They are essential for healthy skin, eyes and hair, as well as the liver function and the nervous system. There are two types of B9 vitamin, the natural one sourced from food is named folate, while the synthetic variety found in supplements is known as folic acid. Since it is soluble in water, B9 vitamin can’t be stored inside the body and has to be constantly replenished from outside sources. This is true for all B vitamins.
Our mental health and emotional balance are directly influenced by folic acid, which is required for normal brain functions. It is part of the structure of DNA and RNA, which store the human genetic code. As a result, folic acid is particularly needed during pregnancy, infancy and growth, when the body expands rapidly. It is also one of the building blocks of red blood cells, alongside the B12 vitamin, and contributes to the metabolism of iron.
Folic acid, the vitamins B6 and B12, as well as other bioactive compounds, regulate the level of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood stream. Studies have found high amounts of homocysteine in the blood of people who suffer from heart diseases. However, it is unknown if this compound causes the disease, or its presence is just a sign of it.
The main natural sources of folate are spinach, turnips and other leafy vegetables. It is also found in peas, beans and other legumes, as well as in animal livers and kidneys, yeast and egg yolk. A number of fruits also supply some folic acid; examples include cantaloupe, pineapple, banana, strawberry, orange and grapefruit. It is added in some processed foods in order to improve their nutritional value, most often in cereals, bread and pasta.
Since folic acid is soluble in water and is easily destroyed by both heat and ultraviolet light, most of the amount found in natural sources is lost during cooking. As a result, most people get it from either the fortified foods mentioned above, or from dietary supplements.
Folic acid is required for several body functions, so it is a very important nutrient. It is known to provide many health benefits.
Pregnant women need an especially high intake of folic acid, both during pregnancy and before it. It plays a key role in the development of the baby and prevents problems with the spinal cord and the brain, as well as other congenital malformations. A diet rich in folic acid is recommended, but usually not enough. Oral supplements are often prescribed in order to ensure a proper supply of this vitamin.
Folic acid can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other cardiac diseases, even if the exact action mechanism is not well understood. Studies have revealed that strokes and heart problems are often combined with high levels of homocysteine in the blood. These levels are decreased by folic acid, in combination with vitamins B6 and B12. As a result, folic acid might be effective in preventing such heart problems, or at least reducing the risks.
The lack of folic acid can be one of the causes of hair loss. Most B vitamins are required for a healthy hair, in particular folic acid and the vitamins B3, B6 and B12. All of them are needed to support the normal growth of hair shafts. Increasing the supply of folic acid is one way to counter this problem.
Folic acid is also needed for proper mental functions. It can prevent some very serious conditions, such as schizophrenia and depression. It can also prevent skin ulcers, anemia and even some types of cancer.
Folic acid is one of the antioxidants that clear toxins from the body and can prevent acne, especially on the face. However, too much of it can actually cause acne and other problems, such as dry and patchy skin.
It is also needed for proper hair growth, because it boosts the multiplication of cells that repair and develop it. Grey hair and baldness are sometimes caused by an improper supply of folic acid. It has similar effects on the skin and can make it firmer, while delaying the effects of aging.