5 health benefits of folate

5 health benefits of folate

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Folate, also known as folic acid, needed to make DNA in the body as well as other genetic material. It also helps with cell division. Folate is one of the 12 types of B-vitamin and it is present in several foods naturally. Folic acid, a type of this vitamin, is used to fortify certain foods such as cereal, pasta and bread, and is available in supplement form as well.

The folate requirement for individuals depends on age. Here are the average daily recommended amounts in micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs), according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • Birth to 6 months: 65 mcg DFE
  • Infants (7–12 months): 80 mcg DFE
  • Children (1–3 years): 150 mcg DFE
  • Children (4–8 years): 200 mcg DFE
  • Children (9–13 years): 300 mcg DFE
  • Teens (14–18 years): 400 mcg DFE
  • Adults (19–71+ years): 400 mcg DFE
  • Pregnant teens and women: 600 mcg DFE
  • Breastfeeding teens and women: 500 mcg DFE

Most healthy people are able to meet their folate requirements. However, some groups are more prone to deficiency. These include women aged 14–30 years, especially during pregnancy. Pregnant women with folate deficiency could give birth to babies with harmful health conditions. Birth defects start developing within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. So it’s important to have folic acid in your system during those early stages when your baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing. Folate taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy can prevent seven out of ten cases of neural tube defects.

In 2011, a large observational study in the journal Gastroenterology linked both folate and folic acid to a reduced risk of colon cancer, though relatively few men took doses of 1,000 micrograms or more.

Benefits of folate

Folate plays an integral role in fetal development and the benefits for pregnant women and their offspring cannot be understated. Though folate requirements can be met by eating a healthy diet, women who plan to or are likely to become pregnant should get about 400 micrograms (mcg) more of it through folic acid supplements or fortified foods, in addition to the amount they consume in natural form.

1. Fetal development
Erythrocyte production – the adequate and appropriate development of an unborn child’s brain and spinal cord – is dependent on foods rich in folate. A lack of folate during pregnancy can lead to gaps in the development of the spinal cord, which can result in paralysis, brain damage, or a stillborn child.
2. Helps to produce red blood cells 
Folate is key in the development of red blood cells or erythrocytes. A lack of this compound can make the body susceptible to cancer. In addition, the body’s defense mechanism, the white blood cells, are also manufactured in the presence of folate supplements.
3. Preventing heart disease
Folic acid supplements also help the heart stay healthy and function optimally. Folate deficiency can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, coronary complications, and strokes in patients. In the U.S., after bread and cereal companies were asked to add vitamin B12 to their products, the rate of heart disease and stroke decreased by about 15 percent. Folic acid also helps remove homocysteine, a toxic compound that can lead to severe artery damage if not eliminated from the blood.
4. Helps in depression
Several studies have indicated that folate supplements can reduce depression. A deficiency may cause an increased risk of depression and dementia.
5. Helps keep brain young
Adequate folate levels are necessary for proper brain functioning. Studies have shown that folate benefits the brain by slowing down the effects of aging.

Folate deficiency effects

Folate deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia. Symptoms of this include weakness, irritability, headache, heart palpitations, exhaustion, shortness of breath and trouble concentrating. Not getting enough folate can also affect the quality and colour of your skin, fingernails and hair. It can result in sores on the tongue and inside the mouth.

Foods that provide folate

In addition to fortified foods, you can meet your folate requirements naturally by consuming a varied diet of vegetables (such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach and mustard greens), fruits and fruit juices (oranges and orange juice), and nuts, beans and peas (peanuts, black-eyed peas and kidney beans).

Check with your doctor before starting a folate supplement, to ensure that it will not interfere with any medications you are currently taking. Long-term use of folate supplementation may mask an underlying and possibly life-threatening B-12 deficiency.

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