Focus on Folic Acid

Focus on Folic Acid

Author -  Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath

Folic Acid (or Folate) is a B vitamin that our cells need to replicate and grow. Folic Acid helps form building blocks of DNA, the body’s genetic information; and building blocks of RNA, needed for protein synthesis in all cells. This means that rapidly growing tissues (such as those of a foetus), and rapidly regenerating cells (like red blood cells and immune cells), need high levels of Folic Acid.

Where is Folic Acid found?

Good Folic Acid sources include:

  • beans
  • leafy green vegetables
  • citrus fruits
  • beets
  • wheat germ
  • meat

Who is likely to be low in Folic Acid?

Many people get less than the recommended amount of Folic Acid. Scientists have found that people with heart disease commonly have elevated blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. Homocysteine levels can increase when people take Folic Acid supplements. This suggests that many people in Western societies may be low in Folic Acid. In fact, it has been suggested that increasing Folic Acid intake might prevent an estimated 13,500 deaths from cardiovascular diseases each year.

Folic Acid deficiency is also common in people who: 

  • drink alcohol excessively
  • have poor diets or nutrient absorption disorders 
  • suffer from liver disease
  • are elderly and have hearing loss (compared to healthy elderly people)
  • take the birth control pill or certain prescription drugs. 

Some situations cause our bodies to need more Folic Acid than usual. These include:

  • pregnancy
  • infancy
  • being elderly
  • various diseases where blood cells are destroyed
  • skin diseases 
  • kidney failure

Folic Acid levels and healthy pregnancies

The relationship between Folic Acid and healthy pregnancies (helping to prevent neural tube defects) is well known today. Low Folate levels may also be associated with a higher risk of miscarriage. To protect against these issues, many countries have introduced mandatory supplementing with Folic Acid in their grain products. This supplementation is expected to increase the average person’s Folic Acid intake by around 100 µg per day. This should result in far fewer people being deficient in Folic Acid, and help to support healthier pregnancies.

Does Folic Acid have any side effects or interactions?

Most people do not experience side effects when they take Folic Acid. However, if you have your Vitamin B12 levels tested, Folic Acid supplements can sometimes mask a B12 deficiency. So although Vitamin B12 deficiencies are uncommon, you should never supplement with 1,000 µg or more of Folic Acid without consulting a doctor.