In honor of this week being National Folic Acid Awareness week (Jan 4th-10th) I decided to dedicate a post to discuss folic acid. This Saturday I will be giving a lecture on this topic to about 40 people ages 70-100, wish me luck! This post will be very informational and important for everyone to know. Folic acid plays many critical roles in our bodies, not only as we age, but throughout our entire lives.
What is folic acid?
- Simply put, folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body make new healthy cells so everyone needs folic acid.
What does folic acid do?
Its chief functions include:
- Required to make all new cells. It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer.
- Involved in synthesis of DNA, red blood cells, and protein.
- Acts with vitamin B12 in the production of hemoglobin and preventing anemia.
- Required for practically all biochemical reactions involving one-carbon transfers
- Functions metabolically as a coenzyme.
- May help protect against heart disease.
Why do I need folic acid?
It is essential for many reasons…
The benefits of folic acid include:
Lowering the risk of caner, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. In a study of 579 people older than 60 years of age, those people who consumed at least 400 micrograms of folic acid were less likely to receive a diagnosis of dementia. This is because folic acid decreases the body’s levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The same amino acid, homocysteine, may increase the risk for heart disease and stroke if levels are too high.
Folic acid may even help people who are already diagnosed with dementia. In order to prevent the buildup of homocysteine in the blood and neural tissue, vitamin B12 and folate are needed to convert it to the amino acid methionine. So like I mentioned above, excess amounts of homocysteine in brain tissue is thought to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Be sure to consume adequate folic acid to help prevent the onset of this disease.
How much folic acid do I need?
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 400mcg daily. Like mentioned above folate can come from foods where it is naturally occurring as well as foods that have been fortified. Supplements are also available.
What foods contain folic acid?
Good sources of naturally occurring folate include: whole grains, fortified cereals, liver, beets, peanuts, citrus fruits, beans/legumes, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, barley, brown rice, okra and many others. Make sure when you purchase enriched grains (like pasta, flour, crackers) they are fortified with folic acid. How do you check? Look at the Nutrition Facts label to see if folic acid has been added and how much. Here are a few foods with the amount of folic acid in micrograms:
Breakfast cereals (ones fortified with folic acid) about 3/4-1 cup contains 100-400mcg (It is great that some breakfast cereals are fully fortified at 400mcg/serving – 100% of the daily recommend intake for many individuals).
Asparagus (1 cup) contains 263mcg
Cooked peas or lentil (1/2 cup) contains 180mcg
Spinach, boiled (1/2 cup) contains 130mcg
Navy beans, boiled (1/2cup) contains 125mcg
Orange juice (1 cup) contains 110mcg
Wheat germ (1/4cup) contains 100mcg
Avocado (1/2) contains 80mcg
Who is at highest risk for deficiencies?
The people at highest risks are:
- People who abuse alcohol
- Alcoholism is associated with folate deficiency.
- Patients with impaired absorption (ie, gastric bypass)
- Pregnant women
- It is important for women during pregnancy to consume adequate amounts of folic acid because it helps lower the risk of delivering a baby with a brain or spinal cord defect such as spina bifida. During pregnancy it is recommended women consume 600mcg daily (400mcg folic acid coming from fortified food or supplements and the remaining 200mcg from vegetables and fruits), and during breastfeeding 500mcg.
- Individuals who take certain medications. Antacids, diuretics, Dilantin, sulfonamides, and anti inflammatory drugs can affect folate metabolism.
A deficiency affects normal cell division and protein synthesis. Anemia may result from a folate deficiency. Note: many symptoms of a deficiency are subtle. On the other hand, people who consume folic acid in excess amounts can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency and can interfere with certain medications. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 1,000mcg. Adults over 50 should avoid taking a supplement with over 400mcg of folic acid. Always be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements!
All in all, most Americans do not have issues with consuming the recommended intake of folic acid in the daily diet. It is important to be mindful of the risks of being deficient. It plays such a big role in our health especially for women during pregnancy and as we age to prevent depression and dementia.
Please feel free to ask me any questions about this since I know it was a lot of details and information! 🙂