In a nutshell
Folic acid also referred to as vitamin B9. It is a water-soluble vitamin. This nutrient is not stored in large amounts in the body, so it must be obtained through the diet. Folic acid may be most commonly known for its importance for the health of the pregnant woman and a growing fetus. However, this B vitamin has plenty of other essential functions in the body. Like other B vitamins, this nutrient is crucial for the metabolism of food into glucose to be used by the body's cells for energy.
Forms of the vitamin
Folate is the form of this nutrient that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the human-made version - it is typically found in supplements.
Folic acid benefits
Vitamin B9 deficiency
Because so many foods are fortified with folic acid, it is rare to develop a deficiency in this vitamin. However, very restrictive diets, drug or alcohol use, certain medical conditions, and the use of some medications can lead to a deficiency in this nutrient. People with a BMI greater than 50 are more likely to develop folate deficiency.
Vitamin B9 deficiency has a large variety of symptoms. In the earliest stages, signs may not be visible but will most likely affect rapidly dividing cells, such as red blood cells, resulting in anemia.
Symptoms of deficiency may include:
• Pregnancy complications;
• Mental fatigue;
• Difficulty sleeping;
• Behavioral disorders;
• Development of gum disease;
Vitamin B9 side effects
Side effects or overdose from folate found in natural sources is unlikely. When taken in recommended dosages, there is also a little risk for side effects- an excessive quantity of water-soluble vitamins is removed with urine. However, the tolerable upper intake level has been set at 300 micrograms per day for very young children to up to 1,000 micrograms per day for healthy adults. Taking high levels or moderate to high levels of B9 in supplement form for a long time increases the risk of side effects.
Side effects from too much of this nutrient in supplement form include cramping, gastrointestinal disturbances, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and many of the same symptoms that occur with a deficiency in this nutrient. Long term exposure to high dose supplements can also increase the risk of heart attack and certain types of cancer.
Daily Recommended Intake
The daily recommended allowance for this nutrient is measured by adequate intake, abbreviated as AI. These are also equivalent to micrograms (µg) per day. The daily AI for folate in both natural and supplement forms vary per age:
• Infants should take 65 - 80 µg;
• Children 1 to 8 should get 150 - 200 µg;
• Children 9 to 18 need 300 - 400 µg;
• Adults 19 and over should aim for 400 µg per day;
• Pregnant women should get 600 µg;
• Nursing mothers need 500 µg.
Sources of vitamin B9
While fortified breads and cereals are full of this nutrient, folate can be found naturally in other food sources. Some of the foods that contain this nutrient include beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables, asparagus.
The following foods have high amounts of B9:
• Turkey liver (cooked) (100g) -691 µg;
• Chicken liver (cooked) (100g) -578 µg;
• Lentils (100g) - 479 µg;
• Beans (100g) - 390 µg;
• Chicken (cooked) (100g) -257µg; ;
• Beef (cooked) (100g) -253µg;
• Peanuts (100g) -240 µg;
• Spinach (100g) -194 µg;
• Turnip (100g) -194 µg;
• Kale (100g) - 141 µg;
Other important sources of B9:
• Broccoli, grape leaves, cabbages, corn, pumpkin;
• Chicken heart, bacon;
• Whole-wheat bread;
B9 was isolated from spinach.
Studies in the 1920s regarding anemia led researchers to believe that folate deficiency and anemia were the same. In 1931, folate was identified as the nutrient needed to prevent anemia during pregnancy. In the 1940s, this vitamin was isolated from spinach and identified.
The vitamin was named folate- from the Latin word "folium" which means "leaf" since it was found in green, leafy vegetables. Once it was determined that this nutrient is one of the B group of vitamins, it also became known as Vitamin B9 since it was the 9th B vitamin to be identified.