Folic acid, vitamin B9 – an organic chemical compound from the group of B vitamins. Its name comes from the Latin word folium, meaning “leaf”.
In the human body it is synthesized by intestinal bacteria, and its biologically active form is levomefolic acid (5-MTHF).
It occurs in foods in the form of folate (salts of folic acid), which is why often the term B9 is identified with the whole group of compounds (it was established that there could be about 150 different forms of folic acid theoretically, in nature there are slightly fewer, about 20 kinds).
It is found in leafy vegetables, mainly in spinach, but also in lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and in smaller quantities in tomatoes, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, beetroot, sunflower, nuts, brewer’s yeast, liver , egg yolks, wheat, oranges, bananas and avocados.
In many countries folic acid is enriched with bread.
The role in the body
Folic acid regulates the growth and functioning of cells; positively affects the nervous system and the brain, decides mental well-being; prevents damage to the neural tube in the fetus, has a positive effect on the weight and development of newborns; participates in the preservation of genetic material and conveying the characteristics of hereditary cells, regulates their division; improves the functioning of the digestive system, participates in the formation of gastric juice, ensures the smooth operation of the liver, stomach and intestines; it is an anti-ananemic agent, stimulates hematopoietic processes, i.e. the formation of red blood cells; it protects the body against cancer (especially cancer of the womb).
In order to assess the intake of folates from various sources FAO and WHO introduced the concept of folate equivalent (DFE). It is assumed that 1 μg of synthetic folic acid, present in enriched enriched food, provides 1.7 μg of folate equivalent, and in the form of a diet supplement taken on an empty stomach – 2 μg of folate equivalent.
The effects of deficiency and prevention
• inhibiting the growth and rebuilding of cells in the body
• small amount of red cells in the blood, so-called megaloblastic anemia (macrocytic)
• feelings of exhaustion and problems with concentration
• states of anxiety, anxiety, depression, excessive irritability
• insomnia, distraction, memory problems
• disorders in digestion and absorption of nutrients, diarrhea, reduced appetite, reduced body weight
• inflammation of the tongue and lip mucous membrane, headache, palpitations, premature graying
• inhibition of growth in children and adolescents.
The correct supply of folic acid is extremely important in pregnant women. Folic acid supplementation during pregnancy, among others, reduces the likelihood of fetal spina bifida – a serious developmental defect that may arise around the third week of pregnancy.
For the prevention of neural tube defects in the fetus, it is recommended to take 0.4 mg of folic acid daily, for a period of – at least one month before planned conception, up to the 12th week of pregnancy. In practice, due to the high unplanned pregnancies, it is recommended that all women of childbearing age take continuous oral oral supplementation of 0.4 mg folic acid. In women who have already had one child with a neural tube defect, prophylaxis with a dose of 5 mg folic acid per day is recommended.
The effects of excess
Increased doses of folic acid may cause: insomnia, irritability, depression, gastrointestinal disturbances, skin allergic reactions (rash, redness, itching), in rare cases, bronchospasm. In addition, excess folic acid during pregnancy increases the child’s risk of developing asthma.