Folic acid is a member of the B vitamin complex. It's an essential nutrient, meaning that your body needs it to stay healthy but cannot produce it. It is also a water-soluble vitamin, which your body does not store. You must therefore obtain a regular and adequate supply from your diet or supplements. Folic acid is especially important for a baby’s growth, making deficiency in pregnant women potentially harmful. Understanding how much folic acid you need and signs of deficiency can help ensure you get enough of this vitamin.
Folic acid plays a critical role in DNA production. Because DNA serves as the genetic code for cells to reproduce, a lack of folic acid can affect your body’s ability to build new cells. It's also important for the formation of normal red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen in your body. Additionally, folic acid works with vitamins B12 and C to help your body break down, utilize or generate new proteins. Proteins serve as the building blocks of healthy skin tissues, blood vessels and tendons.
Deficiency Symptoms in Adults
A lack of folic acid in your body may not cause immediate symptoms, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. If you are prone to folic acid deficiency, your physician can use a blood test to test for higher levels of homocysteine, a substance that can indicate a lack of the vitamin. A folic acid deficiency can cause graying hair, diarrhea, mouth ulcers or peptic ulcers. It can also impair growth or cause a swollen tongue. In the long term, folic acid can lead to megaloblastic anemia, a disease arge immature and dysfunctional red blood cells.
Deficiency Symptoms in Babies
A lack of folic acid in a pregnant woman’s diet can contribute to birth defects, such as impaired neural function or spinal growth in her baby. Because neurological impairment can begin as early as between 21 and 27 days of pregnancy, it is important for women who are trying to become pregnant to meet the recommended daily intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid per day, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Pregnant women need at least 600 micrograms of folic acid. Your physician will likely recommend continual blood tests to check folic acid levels throughout your pregnancy.
If you have been diagnosed with a folic acid deficiency, increase your intake of rich dietary sources, such as cooked spinach, asparagus, lentils, garbanzo beans and lima beans. Many foods also are fortified with folic acid. Some breakfast cereals can, for instance, provide 200 to 400 micrograms of folic acid per 1-cup serving, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. If you have trouble getting enough folic acid in your diet, your physician may recommend taking a folic acid supplement.
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