Folic acid is the technical name for a particular form of Vitamin B9, which is a water soluble vitamin essential to the healthy functioning of the human body, and can be found naturally in a wide variety of common foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and animal liver.
Breakfast cereals are also a good source of this mineral, as they tend to be fortified with lots of different essential vitamins and minerals, including this one.
Highly useful for women suffering from anaemia
The specific medicinal use of folic acid dates back to the 1930s, when it was discovered that the yeast used to brew alcoholic beverages was an effective treatment for pregnant women suffering from anaemia.
It was soon found that the water soluble version of vitamin B9, this mineral in other words, was the active ingredient in this process, and synthesis of folic acid for medicinal purposes began shortly afterwards.
What is the key roles Folic acid plays?
Folic acid plays a key role in the synthesis and maintaining of new cells in the body, and is thus key to a healthy life.
This role is particularly important when cell growth needs to happen at an increased rate, such as during pregnancy, or in the early stages of a child’s life.
It has also been shown to substantially reduce the risk of a baby having a birth defect, particularly a neural tube defect.
For this reason, folic acid is particularly recommended as a supplement for pregnant mothers and young children.
In fact, it is a good idea for any woman who may become pregnant to be taking it, and also for children who are still developing, right into their late teenage years.
Of course, supplementing with this mineral and other essential vitamins can benefit all of us, but these are the groups that stand to benefit most in this particular case.
In addition to its role in the synthesis and regeneration of cells, and in maintaining a healthy pregnancy, this mineral has been found to safeguard blood vessels and arteries from damage by potentially harmful amino acids, and thereby decrease a person’s risk of suffering cardiac problems such as a stroke or heart attack.
It is thought to directly reduce the chance of a potentially lethal blood clot, though investigations into this area are still ongoing, and people with heart problems should not take folic acid without first consulting their physician.
Elder people should avoid Folic acid
Having said this, it is important that elderly people especially do not have too much folic acid in their diets, as it can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, including anemia, which are quite common in older people, without actually treating the cause of the deficiency.
Those over the age of fifty are advised to have their levels of vitamin B12 checked by their physician as part of their regular check-up process, in order to avoid this possibility.
Because of the proven and substantial health benefits, particularly for pregnant women, of folic acid, the public health organizations in many countries have recommended that certain basic foodstuffs such as flour are fortified with folic acid, to try to make sure that all women are getting at least some in their diet, in case they are unaware of the benefits of folic acid, or in case of an unplanned pregnancy.
However, many countries to not mandate that their food is fortified even where it is recommended to do so, and so the safest option is to personally ensure your own diet contains enough of this mineral, and supplementation is a convenient way to do this.
Folic acid and cancer
Folic acid deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially in women.
It is thought that if this is indeed proven to be the case, and studies are still ongoing, then is probably the deficiency causing problems, rather than folic acid actively being an anti-cancer agent.
Having said that, folic acid is used to treat cancer, in conjunction with a drug called Methotrexate, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
Methotrexate however, is toxic to some people and can produce unpleasant side-effects.
These side-effects can be lessened or prevented entirely by supplementing with this mineral during treatment.
Results of its deficiency
Folic acid deficiency has also been found by some studies to cause or exacerbate depression, and there is evidence to suggest that supplementing regularly with folic acid can help to stave off this as well as other potential psychological problems.
This ties in with studies which link this mineral supplementation with increased brain function, including a boost to short term memory, verbal ability and mental agility.
Folic acid may therefore be particularly beneficial to school-age children, whose brains are still developing.
Word of encouragement
This mineral, being crucial in the synthesis of new cells, plays an important role in the reproductive systems of both men and women, and this mineral deficiency has been linked to reduced fertility.
Some couples have found that supplementing with this mineral improved their chances of getting pregnant, though there are of course guarantees, and it will not help in cases where there is some other underlying medical factor.
Folic acid is a key ingredient in most popular multivitamin and mineral supplements, as well as sports nutrition formulas, weight loss products, and other health products, and is also available on its own, usually in capsule form.