Folate is rich in vitamin B. It is water soluble and is also known as B9. Folate is found naturally in some foods we commonly consume. It is also added to fortified foods like cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers and is available in dietary supplements in the form of folic acid. However, the term folate is often used interchangeably for both naturally occurring folates as well as synthetically made folic acid even though they are different compounds. All forms of vitamin B help the body convert carbohydrates into glucose which can be used to produce energy.
Excellent sources of folates in natural food include leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, turnip greens, parsley, asparagus, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, collard greens, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, yeast, and liver. Other foods rich in vitamin B and folates include fruit, nuts, beans, peas, dairy products, poultry, meat, eggs, grain, and seafood.
Folate intake reduces the risk of serious neural tube defects in developing embryos, which can be serious since it could lead to incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord. Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant are advised foods rich in folates along with fortified foods packed with folic acid and folic acid supplements to prevent such defects as well as miscarriages. About 400 to 600 micrograms of folic acid daily from fortified foods or supplements is the recommended daily dose for pregnant women.
Folates are required by the body to synthesize and repair DNA, it is important for cell division and growth as well as to produce healthy blood cells and prevent anemia. Deficiencies of folates and vitamin B produce symptoms of diarrhea, anemia, weakness, shortness of breath, nerve damage, limb numbness, mental confusion, forgetfulness, cognitive decline, ulcers in the mouth, heart palpitations, and irritability.
Folic acid supplements and fortified foods rich in folates are advised to patients with ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism, kidney disease osteoporosis, restless leg syndrome, sleep problems, muscle pain, nerve pain, vitiligo (which is a skin disease), and Alzheimer’s disease. Folates in the form of folic acid supplements are also given to prevent colon cancer, cervical cancer, and age-related macular degeneration of the eye, heart disease, and stroke.
Folate is necessary for fertility in both men and women. Folic acid supplements are advised both to reduce chromosomal defects in sperms as well as to increase the sperm count in couples facing fertility problems.
A form of folate called folinic acid is given to patients receiving the anti-cancer drug, methotrexate, to reverse its side effects.
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