With enough red blood cells, you will have energy and endurance
Folic acid is a water soluble B vitamin that has many functions in the body, including the brain, blood, digestion, and growth. Years ago, it was called Vitamin M; now it is sometimes called vitamin B9. Other forms of the vitamin include folacin, folate, and tetrahydrofolate.
The basic function of folic acid in the body is to carry carbon molecules in the formation of heme, an essential part of hemoglobin that contains iron. When heme is made, the formation of red blood cells can occur. And with enough red blood cells, a person will have energy and endurance.
Folic acid is also needed for the formation of DNA which is essential for the processes of proper reproduction, maintenance and growth of all body cells. This fact makes it easy to understand the importance of folic acid before and during pregnancy; the vitamin is necessary for fertility. Folic acid is essential for the production of healthy sperm and for the maturation of the egg, implantation and the development of the placenta.
Many people do not realize that the brain does not function well when there is a deficiency of folic acid. This vitamin is essential for mental and emotional health. In one study published in Lancet in 2007, short-term memory, mental agility and verbal fluency were all found to be better among adults over the age of 50 when they took 800 mcg folic acid daily.
Folic acid is also tied in closely with the digestive system, stimulating appetite and the production of hydrochloric acid so that food can be digested.
Food Sources of Folic Acid
The best food sources of folic acid are liver, green leafy vegetables such as lettuces, spinach, and brewer's yeast. Dried beans and peas may also contain appreciable amounts. Cereals are often fortified with folic acid and the amount may be as high as 100% in a one cup serving.
How Much Folic Acid Do You Need?
Adults need 400 mcg folic acid each day. During pregnancy, the amount needed is doubled. During lactation, 600 mcg is recommended. Levels recommended have not changed since 1998.
Folic Acid Deficiency Symptoms
The most obvious signs of folic acid deficiency include graying hair, poor growth, inflammation of the tongue, digestive disturbances, irritability, forgetfulness, mental sluggishness and anemia. Sores at the corners of the mouth are also common.
If the deficiency continues for a long time, neurological changes and mental deterioration can result. In a pregnant woman, a folic acid deficiency is devastating, encouraging deformities such as cleft palate, brain damage, and poor learning ability of the child. It can also cause serious complications in a pregnant woman, leading to toxemia, hemorrhaging after birth, premature birth and anemia in both mother and child.
In studies where 15 mg folic acid was given daily for one month to healthy adults, no toxicity or side effects were noted. Even at higher levels, there was no report of toxicity.
1. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000. http://www.ars.usda.gov/dgac
2. Nutrition Almanac, Fifth Edition, by Lavon Dunne, McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2002.