Folic acid: Definition and functions

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Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 or folate is a water-soluble vitamin that is part of the B complex. It performs various functions in the body mainly the formation of DNA and the genetic content of the cells.

Moreover, folic acid is important in maintenance of brain, vascular and the immune system health. The vitamin is contained in various foods such as spinach, beans, brewer’s yeast and asparagus. It can also be obtained as a supplement from pharmacies or natural products stores.

What folic acid is for

Folic acid can be used for various purposes in the body, such as:

  • Maintain brain health, preventing problems such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s, as folic acid participates in dopamine and norepinephrine synthesis.
  • Promote the formation of the nervous system of the foetus during pregnancy, preventing defects in the neural tube, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • Prevent anaemia as it stimulates the formation of blood cells, including red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells.
  • Prevent some types of cancer, such as colon, lung, breast and pancreas, since folic acid participates in the expression of genes and in the formation of DNA and RNA and, therefore, its consumption can prevent malignant genetic changes in cells.
  • Prevent cardiovascular diseases because it maintains the health of blood vessels and reduces homocysteine, which can influence the development of these diseases.
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Folic acid also strengthens the immune system as it participates in the formation and repair of DNA.

Foods rich in folic acid

The following table shows the foods rich in folic acid and the amount of this vitamin in 100 g of each food.

Food (100 g)Ion. Folic (mcg)Food (100 g)Ion. Folic (mcg)
Cooked spinach108Cooked broccoli61
Cooked turkey liver666Papaya38
Cooked ox liver220Banana30
Cooked chicken liver770Beer yeast3912
Baked black bean149Sleeve14
Hazelnut71Baked white rice61
Baked brussels sprouts86Cashew nuts68
Peanut125Sunflower seeds138
Baked beetroot80Avocado62
Baked salmon34Baked beans36

Recommended amount of folic acid

The amount of folic acid consumed per day may vary by age, as indicated below:

  • 0 to 6 months: 65 mcg
  • 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg
  • 1 to 3 years: 150 mcg
  • 4 to 8 years: 200 mcg
  • 9 to 13 years: 300 mcg
  • 14 years or more: 400 mcg
  • Pregnant women: 400 mcg

The supplementation of folic acid should be done under the guidance of a doctor and it is only done when one is deficient of vitamin, or in cases of anaemia and for pregnant women.

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Side effects and contraindications of supplementation

Folic acid is a water soluble vitamin and so its excesses will be eliminated through urine. However, using folic acid supplements without medical advice can cause problems such as stomach pain, nausea, itchy skin or anaemia. The maximum amount of this vitamin that should be consumed per day is 5000mcg, an amount that is generally exceeded when taking a balanced diet.

When one is uses seizure or rheumatism medications, folic acid supplementation should only be taken under medical advice.

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