Folic acid, which is alternatively called on the supplement market folacin or Vitamin B9, is not in and of itself a biological compound, but it becomes an essential nutrient when converted into a number of elements by the liver. Folic acid is vital to healthy DNA, as its derivative compounds are employed in the repair and creation of DNA. It plays an important role, for that reason, in cell growth and cell division, which is why it is often recommended for people with broken bones, or who otherwise need to spur cellular growth during a recover period. Folates are also employed in the creation or healthy red blood cells. Folate deficiency, naturally, can cause an impediment of these processes, leading to a lack of healthy red blood cells and an increase in unhealthy tissue due to a lack of the body replacing old tissue with new tissue. Folic acid deficiency, for this reason, is often a prime cause of anemia in many children or adults.
Folic acid deficiency is generally believed to be the result of diet. Not being able to maintain folic acid intake against its expulsion (which happens as a part of the body's natural processes) is not always incumbent on always only eating food high in folic acid. This is because preparation of these food can cause them to lose their folic acid content. Generally the greatest source of folic acid are certain vegetables, such as broccoli, which unfortunately can see their folic acid content decrease when boiled or cooked. To get the most out of their vegetables, it can be important to eat these foods raw or steamed. Therefore, those who only eat cooked vegetables may be susceptible to some folate deficiency.
Other factors may lead to folic acid deficiency, and many diseases, disorders and conditions can either impair the body's ability to absorb folic acid or cause it to use it up faster. Anemia of any kind, if not caused by folate deficiency, can in turn cause it, as can celiac disease and many forms of liver disease. Situational or lifestyle practices may also cause folic acid to be expelled at an increased rate. Smoking generally inhibits absorption of folates by the body, and breastfeeding (by women) can also cause an increase in folate excretion. Kidney dialysis can also cause folic acid to be expunged often very quickly and suddenly. Recent research studies show that high exposure to ultraviolet light, especially due to tanning bed use, can cause folate deficiency.
Many medications can also cause folic acid to be used up more rapidly, including some diuretics, such as triamterence, anti-inflammatory drugs, including those used to treat some forms of cancer, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. certain anticonvulsant medications, and metformin, which helps regulate blood sugar in type 2 diabetes. In most of these situations, however, folic acid levels will often be checked, and sometimes dietary or supplemental treatment with folic acid will be mandatory.
Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include loss of appetite and above average weight loss, combined wit occasional weakness, tongue sores, heart palpitations, headaches, and some minor behavior disorders, mainly irritability. It has also been linked to low birth weight and premature birth in pregnant women, and neural tube defects in infants (which are usually the most devastating manifestations of folic acid deficiency). Folate deficiency is often also linked to depression, since folates play a vital role in the formation of neurotransmitters, which carry messages between neurons. A lack of folic acid can cause a decrease in neurotransmitters, and can, in theory, lead to a depressed state. Some recent studies have also linked folate deficiency with the formation of tumors in the colon.
Treatment of folic acid deficiency generally leans toward the preventative, and often requires a diet high in folates. Besides leafy green vegetables, most grain products are fortified with folic acid, and FDA approved supplements are readily available over the counter. Most doctors, however, will usually recommend increasing intake through improved diet as opposed to supplementation. Over-intake of folic acid has been linked to harmful side effects, so it will only be recommended in very severe situations, such as anemia.