Pregnant or Not, You Need Folate!4 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws JD, Founder
There are so many nutrients our bodies need to function at its best, and for us to feel our best. The amount of nutrients we need may depend on our age, sex, lifestyle and genetics. For example, some of us may need more vitamin C than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) because of a defective gene.
Since there is not a magical number or formula that works for everyone, it can be overwhelming to keep track of nutritional needs, and chances are there are some nutrients that are just not on our radars.
One of these nutrients may be folate. We all have a gene that regulates folate metabolism in our bodies. If there is a problem with that gene, we may have too little folate and run the risk of certain cancers due to low folate levels. As a result, it may be necessary to take extra steps to monitor our folate levels and/or increase our folate intake. And even if we don’t have a defective gene, it is still necessary to know about folate and ensure we are getting the amount that is just right for us.
So what is folate?
Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is one of the eight B vitamins. B vitamins help our bodies properly use the food we eat as fuel. They are involved in building DNA that the body uses for cell growth.
Folate is naturally found in certain foods including leafy greens, okra, asparagus, bananas, sunflower seeds, brussel sprouts, asparagus, black beans, chayote, yeast, mushrooms, orange juice and tomato juice. Additional sources of folate can be found here. Something to be aware of is beef liver is high in folate, but other meats, poultry and seafood are not that high in folate. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults over the age of 18 is generally 400 micrograms and may be more if you consume alcohol.
It may be difficult to get enough folate from foods especially for women of childbearing age for whom it is critical soon after conception to avoid birth defects. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, ”[t]iming of folate is critical: For folate to be effective, it must be taken in the first few weeks after conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.“ It is for this reason women of childbearing age are encouraged to take folic acid.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is simply the synthetic form of folate, which you can find in supplements. Your body converts folic acid to folate. In 1998, federal law required folic acid to be added to certain foods including bread, flour, cornmeal, rice, pasta and other grain products. This was essentially done to protect pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant. Folate is key in preventing miscarriage and birth defects including spina bifida (when a baby’s spinal cord does not develop properly) and anencephaly (when a baby is born with an undeveloped brain and incomplete skull). According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), pregnant women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
However, folate is a critical nutrient whether you are male or female, pregnant or not pregnant.
Why else is folate such an important nutrient?
It can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Research has shown folate lowers levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of inflammation and heart disease.
It can reduce your risk of colon cancer.
- Johns Hopkins discusses a study performed in Sweden, where mice who had a diet deficient in folate developed intestinal masses, and the mice who had a diet high in folate remained free of tumors. The report reads, “[t]he researchers concluded that folate deficiency increased DNA damage by decreasing the expression of two genes involved in DNA repair. This study is consistent with the majority of epidemiological studies in humans, which demonstrate a clear link between colorectal cancer development and inadequate folate consumption.”
It can improve your mental health.
- According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “[s]ome studies show that 15 to 38% of people with depression have low folate levels in their bodies, and those with very low levels tend to be the most depressed.” According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with folate deficiencies have a greater chance of responding poorly to antidepressants.
It can help protect your precious ears.
- Folate may help prevent age related hearing loss. Similar to how folate helps protect against heart disease, folate lowering homocysteine levels protects us from pathological ear conditions that can occur as we age.
It may protect you from air pollution
- Recent studies have shown folate and all B vitamins may help provide protection from pollutants in the air. Genetic damage can happen from environmental factors including smoking. Unfortunately, like pollution, there are some factors we cannot control, but B vitamins (including folate) may diminish the damage we may be exposed to over time.
Keep in mind, with any vitamin or mineral, too much of one of them may do more harm than good. This is why it is important to get nutritional testing to determine the level of any deficiency.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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