What we need to know about Folate Acid?
Usually we hear about zinc in relation to to mothers expecting babies. It's as important after birth as before; children need quite a large amount of it to support their body's cerebral and physical development.
How much Vitamin B9 do we need?
Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble nutrient that can’t be produced by our body and can’t be stored for a long time or in large amounts. The natural form of it that foods contain is called folate acid, and the supplement made from this is folic acid, which is a synthetic form of it. This is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.
The recommended daily amount of folic acid increase with the age of the person. Even babies (from birth to 6 months) need a moderate amount of folic acid, 65 mcg daily. A child needs 200-300 mcg, depending on their age, and an adult needs a daily 40 mcg.
DFEs in the daily need table are to reflect the higher bioavailability of folic acid than that of food derived folate.
- 1 mcg DFE = 1 mcg food folate
- 1 mcg DFE = 0.6 mcg folic acid from fortified foods or dietary supplements consumed with foods
- 1 mcg DFE = 0.5 mcg folic acid from dietary supplements taken on an empty stomach
Lack of folic acid leads to serious health problems, such as macrocytic anaemia. This is deformation of red blood cells that means they are larger and appear bloated, and the real problem is that they have a reduced capacity to carry oxygen. Deficiency usually has two reasons, one is excess demand for folic acid, such as in pregnancy or breast feeding, and the other is an excessive loss, such as a digestive disease like Crohn’s disease or other problems that cause a decreased digestive function, such as alcoholism. The symptoms of deficiency are tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, headaches, behavioural disorders or diarrhea. Syptoms of deficiency are weakness, difficult concentration, irritability, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, changes in skin or hair.
What foods to eat?
Vitamin B9 is found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, peas, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, brown rice and mushrooms. Fruits that contain folate acid include bananas, melons and lemons, or juices like orange and tomato juice. One food from animals that contains folate acid is liver. Some type of flour may be fortified with folic acid, and the foods produced from these are enriched too with folic acid. It’s added to many grain-based products.
As folate is heat-sensitive it’s suggested we consume it as raw green vegetables if we can, or, if cooking them, don’t over-cook them. Steaming may be a better choice for preparation. There are foods that are fortified with folic acid like breakfast cereals or some types of flour.
What helps to absorb Vitamin B9?
The natural form of folate acid can be used by the body easily, but the synthetic form is easier for the digestive system to handle. If it’s used as a treatment, either for deficiency or for other illnesses, it’s better to take a supplement for a few days, as a doctor suggests.
As mentioned, cooking destroys folate acid,so preparing ingredients that contain folate acid with the least heat possible, increases the chances of absorbing more from the food.
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C increase the absorption of folic acid if taken together with it, and cutting back on alcohol intake provides better circumstances for the body to work well.
What is Vitamin B9 for in the body?
Our body needs Vitamin B9, like B12, to help the formation of red blood cells. As the types of B Vitamins work together, folic acid is responsible for not only the health of our blood but also for the nerve system too and for making the genetic material for all kind of cells. It’s for aiding rapid cell division and growth too.
Is too much Vitamin B9 dangerous?
Taking too much folic acid is not dangerous, although it may cause sickness. The danger in it is that taking a daily 1 mg or higher can cover the symptoms of B12 deficiency which can damage the nervous system seriously. So it’s better to take just the amount necessary. On one hand because it’s water soluble and goes away from the body fast, and on the other hand, because this provides the chance to recognize B12 deficiency in time.
Folic acid taken as a supplement may interfere with some kind of medicines, so it’s best to consult with the doctor if planning to take more folic acid than it can be found in the diet.
Does pregnancy increase the need for Vitamin B9?
Absolutely yes, especially in the first weeks of pregnancy, or if you are even planning a baby! Folic acid is essential during pregnancy and lactation for the baby. It’s responsible, for example, for the development of the baby’s nervous system – this is why it’s so necessary in the first trimester. The recommended daily intake is about 400mcg for excepting mothers. A folic acid deficiency during pregnancy may cause severe defects in the unborn baby’s body. As this vitamin is water soluble, it’s the mother’s responsibility to support the baby too, during pregnancy and lactation.
About Vitamin B9 supplements
A well-balanced diet provides the necessary daily amount of folate acid, so there’s no need to take it as a supplement, except in pregnancy, lactation or digestive diseases.
Best Vitamin B9 based dishes: