Folic acid gets its name from the Latin word folium for leaf because this B-vitamin is found in high concentrations in green leafy vegetables.
Folic acid is necessary for cells to divide properly as it is required for producing the genetic material DNA. As a result, cells and tissues that divide rapidly such as skin cells and intestinal cells are directly impacted by folic acid status. In the skin, a lack of folic acid leads to a condition called seborrheic dermatitis and may be related to vitiligo (loss of skin pigment).
Folic acid is critical during periods of rapid cell growth and division such as pregnancy. Adequate folic acid intake during the periconceptual period (just before and just after pregnancy) helps to prevent major birth defects of the brain and spine such as spina bifida and anencephaly by 50% to 70%.
Folic acid is required for red blood cells to mature properly. Without sufficient folate levels, red blood cells continue to grow without dividing (macrocytic anemia), causing anemia.
Folic acid along with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 work synergistically to lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a byproduct of the conversion of the amino acid methionine to cysteine. Elevated homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor for heart disease. High levels of homocysteine circulating in the blood damage coronary arteries making it easier for blood clotting cells to clump together and form a clot, which may lead to a heart attack. Supplementation with these three B-vitamins has shown to reduce homocysteine levels but has not necessarily decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease. In post menopausal women, increased homocysteine levels may play a role in osteoporosis by preventing proper cross linking of collagen in the bone matrix.
Folic acid also facilitates the production of neurotransmitters, message-carrying molecules in the brain. Folic acid supplementation may help with mild depression as the B-vitamin is required to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being. Deficiency in folate is linked to a wide variety of nervous system problems including general mental fatigue, non-senile dementia, depression, restless leg syndrome, forgetfulness, confusion and insomnia.
Major Functions of Folic Acid
- Essential for division of body cells
- Needed for formation of red blood cells
- Prevents build up of homocysteine levels
- Supports healthy nerve function
Brewer’s yeast provides one of the highest sources of folic acid. Liver is one of the few animal products that are a good source of folic acid.
Plant sources that have a high concentration of folic acid include green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, beet greens and chard. Legumes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, oranges, root vegetables and whole grains are also good sources of folic acid.
Certain fruits and juices (orange juice, pineapple juice, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapefruit juice, banana, raspberry, grapefruit and strawberry) are moderate sources of folic acid.
During the 1990s, national health surveys indicated that most Americans did not consume adequate folate levels (primarily due to emphasis on eating animal vs. plant based foods). As a result, in January 1998, the government initiated the folic acid fortification program which adds folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice and other grain products.
Folic acid is extremely sensitive and easily destroyed by light or heat. Folate in plant products can lose up to 40% of their folate content upon cooking. Processed grains and flours can lose up to 70% of their folate.
Recommended Dietary Allowance
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folic acid is 400 mcg for adults. For pregnant women, the RDA is 600 mcg. While the Tolerable Upper Intake Level for folic acid is 1,000 mcg for adults the risk of toxicity is low because as a water-soluble vitamin, any excess is excreted through the urine.
If you look on a nutritional supplement facts panel, you’ll notice the Amount Per Serving for folic acid and the % Daily Values is at located at the top of the panel. The Amount Per Serving is based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for this nutrient which is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of nearly all (97–98%) healthy individuals in each life-stage and sex group. The Reference Daily Intake for folic acid is 400 mcg which represents 100% of the Daily Values.
Excessive intake of alcohol, smoking and heavy coffee drinking can contribute to folate deficiency.
Birth control pills and a number of medications (anticonvulsant, metformin, sulfasalzine, triamterene, methotrexate and barbiturates) interfere with the absorption or function of folic acid metabolism.
Given its role in making new cell development, nerve function and red blood cell formation, folic acid is incorporated in several of our Recovery and Wellness product formulations.
Energy Support Formula and Bone Support Formula are each formulated with 300 mcg of folic acid. Our Multi-Vitamin & Mineral, which combines both products, is formulated with 600 mcg of folic acid. Anti-Aging Formula is formulated with 400 mcg and Essentials Formula has 200 mcg of this b-vitamin.