Good Nutrition Nutrition and Nutrients

Nutrition Notes

Folic Acid, Folate

The term "Folic Acid" was introduced in 1941 with the discovery of a growth factor found in spinach. It was first synthesized in 1945 and has become a staple nutrient for supplementation. Other terms such as folacin and folate describe both folic acid and related compounds. Folic acid is often used in its pure form (pteroymonoglutamic acid) to prevent and treat deficiencies.

Folic acid has received much research, government and public attention. There are many possible benefits to folic acid supplementation of the diet. The policies of the Alpha Nutrition Program and Alpha Nutrient formulations include a folic acid supplementation level of up to 400 ug per day. The level of folic acid in our formulas achieves this goal.

The impetus for government interest was the demonstration that fetal growth defects that occur in early pregnancy were related to folic acid deficiencies in the diets of young mothers. The main growth abnormalities are neural tubes deficits that occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. These include anencephaly, meningomyelocele and encephalocele, three major abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord that are among the most common birth defects with severe mortality and morbidity. Neural tube defects occur with an incidence of 1-5 per 1000 births, showing marked geographic, ethnic and temporal variations.

Often pregnancy is diagnosed after 12 weeks, too late to avoid neural tube deficits with folic acid supplements. Folic acid is now a nutrient officially added to cereals as a public health measure. In Canada, folic acid has been added to flour and the government has initiated a public education campaign to recommend folic acid supplements to women who are likely to become pregnant. In the USA folic acid was added to cereal grains in 1998 at a dose of 140 micrograms/100 g.

Some Folic Acid Topics from Nutrition Notes

Folic acid deficiency diseases: Anemia, Neural Tube Defects, Arterial Disease, Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Colon and Breast Cancer. RDA 200 ug/day; 400 ug during pregnancy; 280 ug during lactation. Supplement Recommendation: 400 ug/day

Recommendations for daily folic acid intake have been increased incrementally over many years, illustrating the deficiencies in the original concept of RDA. In Canada, the mean daily folic acid intake for ages 12 to 65 years is 205 micrograms/day for men and 149 micrograms/day for women. Pregnancy increases the risk and incidence of folic acid deficiency. Increased intake is recommended for pregnant women - 400 micrograms or 7-micrograms/kg body weight. Intake levels up to 1000 ug per day have shown benefit in cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the prevention of colon cancer.

Folic acid (aka Folate) is a key vitamin in cellular function and repair. Deficiency leads to impaired cell division and to alterations in protein synthesis - the effects are most pronounced in rapidly growing tissues. Folate is essential for the synthesis and repair of DNA. Folate is involved in the synthesis of nucleotides and amino acid metabolism such as the methylation of homocysteine to methionine. Methionine is activated by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), the primary intracellular methyl donor.

Folic acid is essential for the formation and maturation of both red and white blood cells and deficiency is often expressed as anemia, especially among the elderly, the poor, alcoholics, and pregnant women. Folic acid-deficiency anemia is associated with fatigue, weakness, apathy, headaches, irregular heartbeat, sore tongue, and diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, irritability and forgetfulness.

Folic acid is widely distributed in foods. Liver, dark green leafy vegetables, fruit, and yeast are good sources. Some folic acid is synthesized by bacteria in the intestines. Cooking destroys some forms of folic acid and it is generally advised that raw fruits and vegetables are included into the diet. Strict vegetarians are prone to be deficient in vitamin B12, because it is obtainable only from animal products but are likely to be well supplied with folic acid because it is available in vegetables and fruit. Although it may take years for the new vegan to develop B12 deficiency, and it may be masked by a high folic acid intake. The vegetarian's high intake of folic acid allows red blood cells to develop to normal size and maturity, but does not prevent the nerve damage caused by B12 deficiency.