Folate Deficency: Causes, Effects, Treatment and Prevention
What comes to mind when you hear the words, folic acid? A very small yellow tablet or an essential medication a pregnant woman takes?
Folic acid, is a type of Vitamin B that helps to produce red blood cells, make deoxyribonucleic acid DNA and ribonucleic acid RNA.
It is a synthetic form of folate found in certain food and drinks like green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
Folate is essential for normal growth and development throughout life which is why it is very important to prevent a condition called Folate Deficiency.
What are the Causes of Folate Deficiency?
The fact that folate is water soluble, this means that it dissolves easily in water. Due to this reason, it cannot be stored in our muscles or fat cells.
Since our body cannot store it, we have to keep taking folate in our diets or in a supplementary form.
The following are the causes of folate deficiency;
a. Inadequate Diet
When you barely eat vegetables and fresh fruits, you could be depriving yourself from a steady supply of folate.
Also, when you overcook your vegetables, you destroy the vitamins it contains.
We constantly lose vitamins, since our body cannot store them, via our urine on a daily basis.
This means if you do not take enough folate enriched diet, the folate levels in your body will run low after few weeks.
There are some people who have difficulty converting folate from diet or drugs to the form their body can make use of. This is due to a genetic mutation that hinders the digestion and conversion process.
Some diseases affect the digestive systems from absorbing folate from food and these diseases include: Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, some kinds of cancers and severe kidney problems.
d. Excess Intake of Alcohol
Alcohol delays the absorption of folate which makes it extra easy to have it excreted from the body via urine.
Some medications such as sulfamethoxazole, phenytoin and barbiturates keep the body form absorbing folate too causing folate deficiency.
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What are the Effects of Folate Deficiency?
Folate or Vitamin B9 helps with the production of red blood cells. If they are diminished in the body, it would directly affect the RBCs by making them larger than normal and not well developed.
Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients around the body.
When they are affected by lack of folate, it leads to a type of anaemia called Megaloblastic Anaemia which is characterized by;
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
2. Birth Defects
A very serious birth defect called the Neural Tube Defects that affect the brain and spine of a fetus may occur while a woman is pregnant if she does not take enough folate.
The neural tube is a flat like structure that develops in an embryo within the first few weeks of formation. This tube gives rise to the formation of the brain and spinal cord in babies.
This tube is so important because it forms two of the most vital organs in the body (brain and spinal cord), any abnormality that tampers with this tube causes the neural tube defects.
Some of the types of neural tube defect include;
a. Spina Bifida
Here, the spinal cord protrudes out of the body of the baby.
Children who have this condition are likely to have poor control on the ability to urinate and stool at will.
Babies born with this defect require extensive medical care and surgery where necessary.
Here, babies are born without a part of the brain and skull. The remaining part of the brain is usually seen to be disorganized.
They are usually born dead or do not survive after birth.
Here, babies are born with a sac like protusion of the brain and its membrane.
Although this case is rare, it is often accompanied by seizures, paralysis of the limbs and sight problems.
This condition involves a mass of fat tissue blocking the backbone from growing.
It is visible as a large lump and is often linked to poor bowel and bladder control, including weakness in the legs.
Find out more about neural tube defects here.
How Can Folate Deficiency Be Treated?
If you feel you may have folate deficiency, it is advisable to see a certified health professional who may need to run confirmatory diagnostic tests and properly examine you to identify the cause of the deficiency.
Folate deficiency is best treated when you increase intake of folate rich food or you take folic acid.
For those who cannot absorb it as a result of genetics, methylated folate, a processed form of folate can be taken for the body to readily absorb it.
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How can Folate Deficiency Be Prevented?
1. Eat folate rich food such as green vegetables, citrus fruits like orange and mangoes, bananas, eggs, meat, mushroom, legumes, fortified cereals and poultry.
2. If you are not certain about your diet, take folic acid supplements.
3. Avoid alcohol and avoid drug misuse in order not to hinder the absorption of folate especially in pregnant women, to prevent neural tube defects.
It is important to note that the daily recommended dose of folate is 400mcg daily.
Every female who wants to have children in future should be conscious about their folate intake because it is very critical for normal baby growth and development.
Ensure to see a certified health professional if you are experiencing symptoms as listed above.
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