What is folic acid, and why is it so important? These are very good questions and I intend to answer them for you. Folic acid is vitamin B9 or folic acid or folate; these are the water-soluble forms of vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid is essential for the many bodily functions. The human body needs folic acid to synthesize and repair DNA and it is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth. What exactly does that mean? During pregnancy and infancy when the child is growing quickly folic acid is needed to ensure the proper growth of the child. Not only is it needed for cell division and growth, but also adults and children alike need it to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Where do the names folic and folate come from? They are derived from the Latin word meaning “leaf.” This is because the main source of folic acid is leafy vegetables. But in recent times most diets containing cereals and bread are fortified with folic acid. When we lack folate it is said that we have a folate deficiency, this is uncommon in most Western diets.
Folate or folic acid is of the utmost importance during pregnancy. The lack of folic acid can result in many different health problems, but in the unborn fetus it can cause neural tube defects. Some of the most notable symptoms of a folic acid deficiency are diarrhea, weakness, shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness, pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness, and other mental/cognitive decline. It is possible to also experience depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Low levels of folic acid can lead to impaired DNA synthesis which can in turn cause cancer to develop.
Folic acid must be replaced everyday due to the fact that it is a water-soluble vitamin and is regularly removed from the body through the urine; this also means that the risk of toxicity from folic acid is very low.
As mentioned before the importance of folic acid during pregnancy is very important to the mother and the unborn embryo. Folic acid protects against neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are severe abnormalities that affect the central nervous system, resulting in defects in the spine, brain, and skull. The risk of neural tube defects is reduced when the mother is consuming a supplemental folic acid along with a healthy diet. Neural tube defects is just one of the problems caused by not having enough folic acid. Cleft lips, congenital heart defects, low infant birth weight and fetal growth retardation can also occur due to deficiency of Folic Acid.
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