Vitamin B9 - Folic Acid - Prevents Anaemia

Vitamin B9 or folic acid, also known as folacin and folate, was first recognised as a dietary essential for chicks in 1938. Later it was found to be essential for other animals and human beings too. It was used clinically in 1945 by T. D. Spies, who found it to be effective in the treatment of anaemias relating to pregnancy and tropical sprue (an intestinal malabsorption condition). These findings were subsequently confirmed.

Folic acid is a yellow, crystalline substance, sparingly soluble in water and stable in acid solution. However it undergoes fairly rapid destruction when heated in neutral or alkaline substances. It may thus be destroyed by some methods of cooking. Factors that damage this vitamin are sulphur drugs, sunlight, and food processing.

Folic acid is absorbed along the entire length of the intestine, although the jejunum of the small intestine is the primary site for its absorption. About half of the folic acid stored in the body is in the liver which contains 5 to 15 mg/kg of liver weight. A small amount is excreted in the faeces and urine but the additional amounts are presumed to be metabolised and also lost by cells coming off in scales from body surfaces.

Recommended Daily Allowance - Vitamin B9
Men 100 mcg
Women 100 mcg
Children 80 mcg
Infants 25 mcg
Pregnant Women 400 mcg
Lactating Women 150 mcg

Vitamin B9 Benefits - Functions in the Body

Folic acid, in combination with vitamin B12, is essential for the formation, maturation and multiplication of red blood cells. It is necessary for the growth and division of all body cells, including nerve cells, and for manufacturing a number of nerve transmitters. It also produces nucleic acids, RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), that carry hereditary patterns. It aids in protein metabolism and contributes to normal growth. Folic acid helps in the building of antibodies which prevent and heal infections. It is essential for the health of the skin and hair, and helps to prevent premature greying of the hair.

Folic acid is the single most important nutrient for a pregnant woman and her developing foetus. In fact, eating fresh fruits and vegetables rich in folate, from conception until the due date, is the best policy a woman can adopt to ensure that her pregnancy will be a happy and a healthy one. Folic acid also improves lactation.

Vitamin B9 Rich Food Sources

Bulses and legumes such as Bengal gram and green gram are rich in folic acid. Green vegetables such as am lanth, cluster beans, spinach, and mint are valuable sources of folic acid. In fact the presence of this vitamin in green leaves was the basis for the name folacin (folium meaning leaf). Besides green leaves, folic acid is found in gingelly seeds, and meat.

Vitamin B9 Deficiency Symptoms

Deficiency of folic acid causes anaemia which often occurs in pregnant women and children. Serious skin disorders, loss of hair, impaired circulation, a greyish-brown skin pigmentation, fatigue, and mental depression can result from a deficiency of this vitamin. Reproductive disorders such as spontaneous abortions and difficult labour, and a high infant death rate can also be caused by folic acid deficiency. Vitamin B9 deficiency may also lead to loss of libido in males. According to studies, two-thirds of geriatric patients were found to be deficient in folic acid, while one-third of psychiatric patients were also deficient in this vitamin. Lack of folic acid can also lead to dementia.

Almost all the anticonvulsant drugs used in the treatment of epilepsy reduce serum folate concentrations. In addition to anticonvulsants, other drugs such as oral contraceptives, pyrimethamine (an antimalarial), co-trimoxazole (contains a sulphur compound), and ethanol (alcohol) may impair folate metabolism.

Vitamin B9 Side Effects - Precautions

Folic acid normally has no adverse effects. However, when it is used to treat megaloblastic anaemia (secondary to the use o£ianticonvulsant drugs), the epilepsy may be aggravated. If prescribed in the treatment of gout, it may interfere with drugs being prescribed for epilepsy, and hide the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Hence folic acid therapy in gout too should only be taken under medical supervision.

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