Folic acid belongs to the B group of vitamins and is the supplemental form of folate. Folic acid plays an essential role in human growth and development, in particular cell division and DNA synthesis. The demand for Folic acid increases when human cell growth is very active, such as in pregnancy, during breastfeeding and some types of cancer e.g., leukaemia.
Always consult your Health Professional to advise you on dosages. Folic acid is important for any stage of human life which involves growth such as pregnancy, lactation and early growth because of the role the folate plays in DNA, RNA and protein production.
Folate and Pregnancy
Folic acid deficiency is strongly linked with the risk of having an infant with spina bifida or other neural tube defects (NTD). Folic acid supplements should be taken daily for three months before conception and during the first trimester. Women who have a family history of neural tube defects or who have had a baby with a neural tube defect should take 5mg of folate daily and other women should take 0.4mg of folate daily.
To prevent NTDs 400 mcg (0.4 mg) is required per day from at least one month before conceiving and for the first three months of pregnancy. Most single supplements contain 400 mcg per tablet; therefore one tablet per day is usually adequate. Multi-vitamins, however, may not contain sufficient amounts of Folic Acid so it is important to read the label. In women who have already had an NTD-affected pregnancy or a family history of the problem, the recommended daily dose of Folic acid is much higher. Any dose above 1 mg, however, should only occur after advice from and supervision by a medical Doctor. See your health care professional for advice about the correct dosage for you.
Folic acid deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies and has been observed in alcoholics, pregnant women, people living in institutions e.g. old age homes, people with absorption problems such as ulcerative colitis and people taking certain medications e.g., methotrexate. In most cases a Folic acid deficiency occurs without any symptoms. In severe cases of Folic acid deficiency signs and symptoms such as macrocytic anaemia, weakness, tiredness, irritability, forgetfulness, difficulty breathing, anorexia, diarrhoea, weight loss, headache, palpitations and inflammation of the tongue may occur.
Certain foods are now enriched with folate to provide a higher dietary intake e.g., some breakfast cereals, juices and most bread (bread made with organic flour may not contain folate) Foods which are good sources of folate include; dark green, leafy vegetables, many fruits (especially berries, oranges and bananas), nuts, cereals, dried peas, beans, lentils and eggs. Food processing, storage, preparation and cooking can also destroy up to half of the total folate content of vegetables. Steaming or lightly stir frying vegetables is the best way to preserve the folate content.
Folic acid is not recommended for people taking anticonvulsant medication. Folic acid may lower plasma phenytoin or phenobarbital concentrations. Taking more than 10 mg of Folic acid daily may lead to reduced seizure control in patients suffering from epilepsy. Women with epilepsy should possibly avoid high doses as it may trigger convulsions.
Doses of more than 4 mg of Folic acid per day may mask the effects of vitamin B12 deficiency leading to neurological damage. There are certain drugs that may interfere with folate levels in the body. Your Pharmacist can advise about possible Folate/medication interactions.