What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin from the vitamin B complex and occurs in nature only as folate. Nonetheless, the name folic acid is more commonly used, although it is the chemically produced version of folate that is used in vitamin supplements and for the artificial fortification of food. Our body is not able to produce it ourselves. Therefore, we need to take it up through our diet and so the vitamin is essential to our body. We can store a supply of 3-4 months. The recommended folate intake is 400 μg per day, pregnant and breastfeeding women should take 600 μg.
We need this vitamin for different metabolic processes. Especially for our cell and blood formation as well as for our protein metabolism. Folate is thus also decisively involved in growth, which in turn makes it very important for pregnant women and children.
How does a deficiency express itself?
A deficiency manifests itself mainly in the blood count, since – similar to the vitamin B12 deficiency – the production of red blood cells suffers. This can lead to anemia. In addition, it can lead to a disruption of DNA synthesis. Since folate is also involved in cell formation, it can also cause significant malformations.
An under-supply can have various causes: celiac disease (gluten intolerance), alcohol consumption, drugs, and also tumors. Often a folate deficiency during pregnancy seems to be due to malformations, premature birth, autism, and the development of congenital heart disease. The most common form is the spina bifida. In adulthood, there is much evidence that a deficiency is strongly linked to depression. Irritability, fatigue, lack of drive and appetite, as well as skin changes and hair loss are also associated with a deficiency.
Where can I find folate / folic acid?
The best source of folate (folium is the Latin word for “leaf”) is green (leafy) vegetables and legumes. Especially spinach and salads, spirulina, green asparagus, okra, all kinds of beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils. With a well-balanced diet, the recommended values for pregnant women are easy to achieve. For example, 100 grams of corn salad already has 145 micrograms of folate. Per 100 g of peanuts you get 240 µg of folate, sunflower seeds provide 237 μg, cooked chickpeas 172 μg, raw endives 142 μg, and kale 141 μg.
Since folate is soluble in water and sensitive to heat, it is best to process the food as little as possible and to consume it as raw as possible. The fresher and more natural, the better.
Can I consume too much folate or folic acid?
You cannot overdose on the natural form of folate in foods or an overdose is not harmful. Similar to vitamin B12, a surplus is excreted through the urine.
An overdose of chemically produced folic acid, which we can find in fortified foods and vitamin supplements, can be harmful. EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, has set a daily tolerable level of 1000 μg folic acid for adults. For children and adolescents up to the age of 18, this limit is 200-800 μg of folic acid per day.
You see, fatigue and listlessness are often associated with a lack of vitamin D or vitamin B12. But they can also be caused by a lack of folic acid/folate. And we see once again: A well-balanced, varied diet can not be replaced by any vitamin pills 😉 You get not only vitamins but also important fiber and antioxidants by eating real food.
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Here are all sources for this blog post
Gilbody, S./Lightfoot, T./Sheldon, T. 2007: Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta-analysis and exploration of heterogeneity, in: Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, Vol. 61, 2007, No. 7, pp. 631-637.
Obeid, R./Koletzko, B./Pietrzik, K. 2014: Critical evaluation of lowering the recommended dietary intake of folate, in: Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 33, 2014, No. 2, pp. 252-259.
Paniz, C./Bertinato, J. F./Lucena, M. R./De Carli, E./Amorim, P. M. D. S./Gomes, G. W./Palchetti, C. Z./Figueiredo, M. S./Pfeiffer, C. M./Fazili, Z./Green, R./Guerra-Shinohara, E. M. 2017: A Daily Dose of 5 mg Folic Acid for 90 Days Is Associated with Increased Serum Unmetabolized Folic Acid and Reduced Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity in Healthy Brazilian Adults, in: The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 147, 2017, No. 9, pp. 1677-1685.
Tolmunen, T./Hintikka, J./Ruusunen, A./Voutilainen, S./Tanskanen, A./Valkonen, V.-P./Viinamäki, H./Kaplan, G. A./Salonen, J. T. 2004: Dietary Folate and the Risk of Depression in Finnish Middle-Aged Men, in: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Vol. 73, 2004, No. 6, pp. 334-339.