Folic acid is a vitamin of the B complex group and is also called; vitamin B9, pteroylglutamic acid, folate, or folacin. Folic acid is essential to formation of the red blood cells and this appears to decrease the levels of homocysteine which is an amino acid which may be responsible for increasing the risk of heart disease and the development of cleft lips and cleft palates.
The role of folic acid in people is to synthesize and formulate nucleic acids and heme, which is the part of the hemoglobin which carries the iron. Any shortage of folic acid may lead to ‘folic acid deficiency anemia’.
Blood which shows low quantities of folic acid is connected with a raised risk of cancer of the colon in women. A study showed folic acid from your diet was linked to a small reduction of the risk of cancer of the colon but additional folic acid supplemented from the diet only would have to be taken for 15 years to achieve this minimal benefit. It is unknown what amount of protection would be given by taking folic acid supplements.
Pregnant women with low folic acid levels tend to experience premature births and deliver low weight babies as well as babies with defects of the neural tube. Folic acid benefits are essential in the development of the neural tube which forms the spinal cord and brain. These defects in babies seem to be connected to a folate metabolism disorder in the mother, which means the diet includes sufficient folic acid but the body is unable to use it effectively. Folic acid benefits the baby by helping to lessen the risk of the baby developing this defect. Between four and six weeks after the first day of last menstrual period, formation of the neural tube begins in the embryo and then it closes which develops into the spine, spinal cord, skull and brain in the baby. When the neural tube fails to close defects appear as the amniotic fluid is exposed to the developing spinal cord or brain.
Folic acid benefits pregnant women and they should continue taking the folic acid up until 12 weeks pregnant. Most women are not aware they are pregnant at this time and as approximately 50% of pregnancies are not planned it is advisable that women of child bearing age should ensure their diet consists of 400mcgs of folic acid. Folic acid benefits mothers and babies by lessening the risk of neural tube defects which includes spina bifida.
Taking high quantities of folic acid is not toxic, but women are advised not to take more than 1000 micrograms on a daily basis. Taking folic acid in considerable amounts can conceal the presence of pernicious anemia which is a rare vitamin B12 deficiency and older people tend to be affected by this condition which can sometimes lead to damage of the nervous system. However, nowadays it is easy for doctors to carry out a definitive test to find out if a vitamin B12 deficiency is present.
Folic acid benefits people who are aged 55 and over. People who drink alcohol to excess should raise their folic acid.