Folic Acid Folate Folacin Vitamin B

Folacin or folate, as it is usually called, is the form of vitamin B9 naturally present in foods, whereas folic acid is the synthetic form added to fortified foods and supplements. Both forms are absorbed in the small intestine and stored in the liver. The folic acid form, however, is more efficiently absorbed and available to the body. When consumed in excess of needs, both forms are excreted in urine and easily destroyed by heat, oxidation, and light.

All forms of this vitamin are readily converted to the coenzyme form called tetrahydrofolate (THFA), which plays a key role in transferring singlecarbon methyl units during the synthesis of DNA and RNA, and in interconversions of amino acids. Folate also plays an important role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Meeting folate needs can improve mood and mental functions.

Folate deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. Early symptoms are nonspecific and include tiredness, irritability, and loss of appetite. Severe folate deficiency leads to macrocytic anemia, a condition in which cells in the bone marrow cannot divide normally and red blood cells remain in a large immature form called macrocytes. Large immature cells also appear along the length of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Pregnancy is a time of rapid cell multiplication and DNA synthesis, which increases the need for folate. Folate deficiency may lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida (failure of the spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy) and anencephaly (closure of the neural tube during fetal development, resulting in part of the cranium not being formed). Seventy percent of these defects could be avoided by adequate folate status before conception, and it is recommended that all women of child-bearing age consume at least 400 micrograms (pg) of folic acid each day from fortified foods and supplements. Other groups at risk of deficiency include elderly persons and persons suffering from alcohol abuse or taking certain prescription drugs.

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