Folic acid is a form of Vitamin B, specifically Vitamin B 9. In plants, Vitamin B is found in the ‘Folate’ form, a chemical form which occurs naturally. The ‘Folic’ form, which does not occur naturally in either plants or in the human body, is the more stable form and this, is the form in which Vitamin B tablets are mass produced by pharmaceutical companies.
Folic acid (or folate) is found in leafy vegetables such as dried beans, peas, lentils, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. Fruits such as bananas, lemons and melons are also high in folic acids. Liver and kidney are excellent meat sources of folic acid, and whole wheat products are naturally high in folic acid. Nowadays, health foods also have extra folic acid added in order to boost the nutrition content. Even products that do not fall into the ‘health food’ category, such as cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers now contain high amounts of folic acid, as required by law.
Folic acid is water soluble, which means that it can be very easily absorbed by the body. However, the downside of water soluble vitamins is that they can also be very easily washed out of the body. Therefore, the body has a very high folic acid requirement, which must be filled through the diet and supplements.
Folic acid is needed by the body to create new healthy cells. It is also needed for tissue repair and maintenance. Red blood cells especially require a great deal of folic acid. Red blood cells get their color from the pigment, hemoglobin. Hemoglobin allows red blood cells to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body’s cells, by binding to the molecules in question and following the blood vessels into and out of the lungs. Folic acid is necessary for the formation of heme, the iron carrying component of hemoglobin. Without folic acid, the red blood cells will not mature. This eventually leads to folic deficiency anemia.
Folic acid is also necessary for DNA (deoxyribonucleic) replication. DNA is made up of, among other things, structures called nucleic acids. Folic acid is essential for the synthesis of these nucleic acids. Therefore, folic acid is extremely necessary for the correct translation of genetic information from parent to child.
There is a very large list of diseases and conditions which can be treated, alleviated and even cured with enough folic acid. The list includes depression, schizophrenia, arthrosclerosis, and diarrhea. Heart disease is also included in this list since folic acid reduces blood pressure. It does so by relaxing the blood vessels and thus slowing down blood flow.
Folic acid can also be helpful in treating epilepsy gingivitis, and gout. Some believe it can also slow the signs of aging by helping to retain memory and mental acuity. Lastly, folic acid is said to reduce the chances of developing colon cancer.
Pregnant women need a great deal of folic acid. Folic acid is essential for the development of the fetus. Lack of folic acid can cause any number of birth defects and spinal cord defects in the fetus. Spina Bifida is one such condition which can be prevented by the mother by taking lots of folic acid.
Folic acid is needed for the proper development of the baby’s spinal cord and brain. Without it, the fetus develops what doctors term neural tube defects. Lack of folic acid also leads to premature births. To avoid these above mentioned risks, it is often recommended that pregnant women to take about 400 mcg of folic acid every day.