Vitamin B9, well-known as Folate or Folic acid in layman terms is one of the eight water-soluble vitamins. The term folate comes from the Latin word folium which means ‘leaf’ since it is chiefly found in many leafy plants and vegetables. Just like most B vitamins, it is used for converting food (i.e. carbohydrates) into simpler, easy to digest forms, i.e. glucose which is necessary for energy production. Apart from energy synthesis, folic acid is extremely crucial for the proper functioning of the brain and uplifting mental and emotional health.
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Folic acid, being the synthetic, chemical form of vitamin B9 is naturally found in food and the body and is usually converted into a metabolically active form i.e. tetrahydrofolate derivative (e.g., 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) that can be easily used by the body. This conversion chiefly occurs in the liver, where the folic acid is converted into tetrahydrofolate (THF) using the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR).
Vitamin B9 actively participates in the synthesis of DNA and RNA which is highly necessary during rapid growth periods like puberty and pregnancy. It also helps in the synthesis and conversion of nucleic acid, amino acid as well as functions as a cofactor in several enzymatic reactions.
Folate was identified as an active constituent present in brewer’s yeast in the year 1930 and was first isolated and extracted in 1941 by biochemists Herschel K. Mitchell, Esmond E. Snell, and Roger J. Williams from green spinach leaves and hence was termed folate which is Latin for leaves. It was only later, in the year 1943, the pure crystalline form was obtained by a researcher named Bob Stokstad, a researcher.
Vitamin B9 or folic acid is pivotal for making red blood cells, helping in rapid cell division and growth, synthesis of RNA and DNA and enhancing brain activities. It holds high significance in maintaining the growth and replication of cells and tissues during the growing years such as during pregnancy, infancy, childhood and adolescence.
It is strongly advised for pregnant women to have folic acid-rich foods or supplements since it helps prevent the foetus from developing major congenital deformities of the brain or spine, including neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Vitamin B9 can minimize the risk of congenital heart defects, cleft lip palate defects, and other abnormalities during the preconception period. Hence, it is even beneficial for women planning for a pregnancy to take vitamin B9 to thwart these abnormalities in the foetus. It also helps prevent sudden miscarriages. Also Read: National Nutrition Week: Top 5 Supplements Essential For Optimal Health
Several types of research show that foods rich in vitamin B9 shows strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and hence are useful for treating and reducing pain and inflammation during arthritis.
Regular intake of folic acid has shown to reduce homocysteine levels in the blood, an increase of which can cause heart ailments and elevated risk of hardening of arteries i.e. atherosclerosis. Vitamin B9 intake also reported a marked reduction of heart blocks and strokes. Also Read: World Heart Day: 5 Simple Ways To Care For Your Heart
Vitamin B9 plays a pivotal role in improving the cognitive functioning of the brain. It helps in repairing the brain cells and in turn, is used for improving memory and concentration and treating symptoms associated with psychotic conditions like schizophrenia, hallucinations, etc. An increase in homocysteine levels in the blood can negatively impact the healthy functioning of the neural cells. However, a potent intake of folic acid reduces homocysteine levels, thereby boosting cognitive actions and preventing conditions like Alzheimer’s. It holds great value in the synthesis of neurotransmitters that help the brain to regulate mood swings and also prevents depression, anxiety, pain and mental fatigue. Also Read: 5 Top Nutrients To Boost Memory And Ace Your Exams
Vitamin B9 is also extremely beneficial for vision as it helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. The supplements and foods containing folic acid are also found to be effective in treating age-related hearing.
Vitamin B9 is a super-rich natural antioxidant and hence helps to scavenge harmful free radicals from the body and thus prevents oxidative damage. It is also extremely beneficial for rejuvenating the skin, reducing various signs of ageing like wrinkles, fine lines, spots, dark circles etc. Also Read: 7 Ultimate Vitamins To Nourish Your Skin And Hair
Recent researches show that a deficiency of vitamin B9 food sources have an increased risk of cancer, specifically breast cancer in women. Since it is used for cell division, DNA synthesis, and gene expression, regular consumption of folic acid has a marked effect on suppression early stages of cancer and also reducing risk of breast, cervical, pancreatic, stomach and colon cancer.
Vitamin B9 intake can also help in improving bone strength, reducing kidney and liver damage, treating arsenic poisoning and autism spectrum disorders, promoting fertility and boosting a healthy immune system.
Higher levels of homocysteine in people diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), can often aggravate the situation and lead to renal failure. Folic acid successfully reduces the homocysteine levels and risk of heart disease in ESRD people, thereby increasing the survival rates and preventing other complications.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder wherein your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't effectively use the insulin it does make leading to excess sugar in the body and causing various debilitating health complications. Foods rich in folic acid or folate supplements effectively improve blood sugar control, attenuate insulin resistance and promote cardiovascular functions in people diagnosed with diabetes. Folic acid also helps in reducing diabetic complications such as diabetic neuropathy.
Certain medications, especially immunosuppressants used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or certain forms of cancer can induce side effects like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased hair growth, and hand trembling. Taking prescribed amount of folic acid can help reduce the toxic side-effects without impacting its efficacy.
Vitamin B9 holds high significance for the healthy functioning of the brain. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, this water-soluble vitamin is produced in very minute quantity in the body, hence to suffice the dietary needs one has to strictly depend on external food sources and supplements rich in folic acid. And much to our relief, Mother Nature has blessed us with a generous amount of natural food sources laden with vitamin B9 that serves our daily requirements of this healthful nutrient.
Foods Rich In Vitamin B9 Include:
Vegetables include spinach, artichoke, turnip greens, okra, broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnip, lettuce, beets, potato, lentils, peas and beans.
Fruits include avocado, papaya, kiwi and orange.
Grain products include pasta, bagel and bread.
Nuts and seeds include peanuts, soy seeds and sunflower seeds.
Fortified cereals and products include breakfast cereals, cakes, cookies, cornmeal, crackers etc.
Other food sources include egg yolk, baker’s yeast, milk, salmon, and meat.
Although quite rare in most of the developing nations, an unhealthy diet void of vegetables and folate-rich foods can lead to severe deficiency syndromes. Vitamin B9 deficiency is mostly seen in people suffering from alcohol addiction since it prevents the absorption of folate and causes an early excretion from the body. It is also common in pregnant women, people suffering from digestive disorders like Celiac disease, Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease which interferes in the absorption of folate and people suffering from gene abnormality, where their body cannot convert folate into its active form.
The most potent deficiency syndrome that occurs due to lack of vitamin B9 is anaemia; a condition which happens when one lacks an adequate amount of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the different parts of the body. Folate deficiency may also lead to diarrhoea, depression, glossitis, confusion, and foetal neural tube, brain defects, fatigue, mouth sores, poor growth, grey hair, and swollen tongue. Also Read: Anaemia: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
It can also cause megaloblastic anaemia; a severe anaemic condition arising from a lack of folate or folic acid in the diet or poor absorption of the nutrient into the body that ultimately produces less red blood cells, which are larger in size than normal. Severe deficiency symptoms also include loss of appetite, irritable mood, weakness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, depression, low bone density, problems with memory and difficulty in concentrating.
Since vitamin B9 is water-soluble, it is excreted regularly from the body via urine which effectively lowers the risk of toxicity. The Recommended Dietary Intake of folate is 400 mcg. Pregnant women and those planning pregnancies are suggested to have 400 to 800 mcg of folate every day. But do keep in mind to get consulted with a doctor or health care personnel before taking Vitamin B9 in supplement form as an overdosage or anything more than the prescribed amount can cause side effects like sleep disturbances, mental confusion, skin reactions, loss of appetite, nausea, seizures and gastrointestinal defects.
Being a quintessential ingredient, this water-soluble vitamin is highly beneficial for a host of health benefits like metabolising fat, alleviating neural tube defects, maintaining a healthy nervous system, and promoting cardiac health. Hence, it is strongly advocated to use it within the prescribed quantity, steer clear of harmful side effects and enjoy the health benefits.