Folate or folic acid is most commonly thought of as a vitamin pregnant women need – but think again as folate has many functions
Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folate or folic acid is part of the (water soluble) B vitamin family. Folate occurs naturally in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folate is absolutely essential for good health, and has been most publicized for its importance in pregnancy and the formation of the fetus.
Beyond pregnancy, one of folate's key functions is to allow for development of red blood cells. These cells help carry oxygen around the body – thus a type of anemia can occur if folic acid intake is low or one is deficient.
Folate is also essential for normal nerve and brain functioning, and may help reduce blood-levels of homocysteine (elevated levels increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease). Cells with a quick turnover, i.e. skin cells, gastrointestinal cells, and more, are dependent on folic acid for their formation. For this reason, deficiency has been linked to issues with these tissues including: dermatitis, vitiligo (loss of skin pigment), cancers of the esophagus and lung, uterus and cervix, and intestine (colon).
More on homocysteine. Researchers from the Netherlands and the US have confirmed that low levels of dietary folic acid significantly increases risk of osteporosis-related fractures due to the increase in homocysteine. Homocysteine has already been linked to damage to the arteries and atherosclerosis, plus increased risk of dementia in the elderly. Increased intake of folic acid, particularly by men, has been suggested as a simply way to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, by preventing build-up of homocysteine.
Shopping for folate rich foods?
Some great foods for folate include, lentils, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, beets, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, avocado, sunflower seeds, mustard greens, and kale. Think foliage when you think of folate as well as beans and legumes. Having a varied and balanced diet with a focus on fresh produce will steer you in the right direction towards optimal vitamin, minerals and of course folate.
The daily US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 400 micrograms for adults. Women who are pregnant or nursing should discuss requirements with their physicians.