Vitamin B9 Folic Acid (Folate)
The terms folate and folic acid are used interchangeably when referring to vitamin B9. Folic acid is the most stable of the two forms and is often found in supplements and fortified foods. Folate occurs naturally in food sources such as spinach and other green leafy vegetables. Like other B vitamins, folic acid is necessary for a variety of functions and body processes, from cellular maintenance to the prevention of birth defects in developing fetuses.
Folic Acid and DNA and RNA Synthesis
Folic acid is essential for the synthesis of DNA, the genetic blueprint that allows cells to properly develop and divide. Doctors recommend that pregnant women take folic acid supplements, a practice that has significantly reduced the incidence of certain birth defects. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that even mild folic acid deficiency can greatly increase the incidence of damaged DNA. Other studies have linked folic acid deficiencies to the development of dysplasia (abnormal cell development often linked to cancer) in the colon, the lungs and the cervix.
Folic Acid and Homocysteine
Recent studies indicate that folic acid, taken alone or with other B vitamins, can effectively lower homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is associated with atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction, as well inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, excess homocysteine can significantly add to the amount of stress a person experiences. B vitamin supplements can help bring homocysteine levels down and may reduce stress.
How Much Folic Acid Do We Need?
Research shows that most of us aren’t getting enough folic acid in our diets. Most people consume about 200 micrograms of folic acid each day. This is only half of the daily recommendation, and many experts believe the daily recommendation is inadequate. Good food sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, lentils, pinto, navy, lima and kidney beans, tuna, oranges, strawberries, wheat germ, asparagus, bananas, and cantaloupe. Eat these foods as fresh as possible, because heat and long storage times can destroy folic acid content.
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