Folate also known as folic acid is needed to produce blood cells and other new tissue cells.
Folate is a generic term for a group of pteridine compounds essential for one-carbon unit metabolism. Folates are involved in the synthesis of DNA, RNA and tRNA necessary for cell growth. Folates are required for metabolism of methionine, histidine, tryptophan, glycine, serine and formate. Interactions with vitamin B6 and B12 also occur from common metabolic pathways. Folate function is necessary to prevent accumulation of homocysteine. Deficient folate status of pregnant females is also directly linked to incidence of birth defects, especially neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Symptoms of folate deficiency include birth defects (neural tube defects, spina bifida), fatigue, anorexia, constipation, glossitis, headaches, insomnia, restless legs, paranoia, memory impairment, megaloblastic anemia (identical in appearance to vitamin B12 deficiency), hypersegmentation of neutrophils and with severe deficiency, intestinal lesions. However, the neurological complications of vitamin B12 deficiency do not occur with folate deficiency. Thus, a regulatory limit on folate levels in dietary supplements of 400 mcg per unit is in effect, to prevent a potential missed diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Those at risk for folate deficiency include: Vitamin B12 deficiency, malnourished, malabsorption, pregnant and lactating women, increased rate of cellular division (burns, trauma, malignancies, hemolytic anemias), alcoholics, anti-convulsant therapy (phenytoin, barbiturates, primidone), folate antagonist therapy (nethotrezate, 5-fluoroacul, pyrimethamine), tuberculosis therapy (isoniazid plus cycloserine), oral contraceptive users, sulfasalzine therapy, elderly, infants and inherited folate disorders.
Dietary sources richest in folate (per serving) include:
- Nutritional Supplements
- vitamin-fortified cereals
- wheat germ
- Green leafy vegetables