Folate is a vitamin found naturally
in certain foods. It belongs to the B group vitamins –
in fact, it is also known as B9.
The synthetic (or man made) version
of this nutrient is called Folic acid. The only
differences between the two are how they are made
(naturally or synthetically) and how the body uses them;
the human body completely uses folic acid but only
absorbs and uses some of the folate.
Folate is important in the growth and
development of new cells and making of DNA, especially
in embryos. It also helps to regulate the level of an
amino acid called homocystine.
Folate and pregnancy
Taking folate daily is important
for any woman who may get pregnant, whether she is
planning to or not. It is estimated that about half of
all pregnancies are unplanned, so prevention is relevant
for all women.
Within the first 17 to 30 days of
pregnancy (4 to 6 weeks after her last period), the
baby’s neural tube is formed and closes. This tube will
become the spine and brain of the baby, so it is very
important to get it right.
Sometimes, the tube doesn’t close
properly and the spinal cord is exposed to the amniotic
fluids. This results in spina bifida (the spine is
affected and the child will be somewhat paralysed) or
anencephaly (the brain is affected ad the child won’t
survive much beyond birth, if that.) These conditions
are both known as neural tube defects, or NTDs.
All of this happens before the woman
is even aware she is pregnant, so prevention is required
Women taking 400 micrograms of folate
each day has saved 7 out of 10 NTD births happening. The
important time is to take it for the month before
getting pregnant, and at least three months afterwards.
Some experts also suggest pregnant women take 600
micrograms throughout the pregnancy itself as it is
important in other developmental stages for the embryo.
Folate in pregnancy also lessens
the risk of cleft palates and cleft lips by 25 to 50%.
Other medical uses for folate
Research is being carried out to
confirm other medical benefits for the use of folate.
It has been shown that taking folate
will reduce the amount of homocystine in the blood in
both men and women. High levels of homocystine make it
more likely a stroke or heart disease will occur, so
there is some belief that regular folate doses will
reduce heart disease and stroke. English research
suggests that 800 micrograms a day has a 15% drop in
angina and heart attack cases.
USA researchers discovered that 15 to
38% of depressed people in a study had very low levels
of folate. Using folate as therapy, these depressive
people noticed improvements within six weeks.
Crohn’s disease patients are known to
have a higher risk of stroke and heart disease. Recent
research showed that these people have high homocystine
and high folate levels, which is consistent with the
heart disease findings. Crohn’s patients may therefore
benefit fro m regular folate doses, too.
One effect of chronic fatigue
syndrome (CFS) is a deficiency in some nutritents,
including folate. One American Doctor has suggested a
high does of folate for three months to help CFS
Regular doses of folate have also
reduced the risk of breast, pancreatic and colon cancer
in some studies. These results need further
investigation, but folate does appear to be important
for healing and preventing DNA replication mistakes.
Folate is generally good
for our health and is safe for everyone to take.
Mother of two, Melbourne writer, Tash
Hughes writes articles on health and family issues for
ezines, websites and magazines. Tash also owns
Word Constructions to help business owners have a
professional presentation on paper and on the internet.
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