Vitamin B9 or folic acid is an essential Vitamin needed for the proper functioning of our body. However, it is extremely crucial for conception and fetal development.
That’s why folate takes the central stage crucial during pregnancy. More so, because it cannot be synthesized in the body naturally, with this blog post, we will explore the role of folate, shedding light on its part in preventing neural tube defects and other birth anomalies.
Additionally, we will also explore folate sources, its recommended intake, and practical tips for pregnant women to safely incorporate folate into their daily diet. Let’s dive in then.
What is folate? – A Simple Overview
Folate is a water solution B-Vitamin that is essential for some necessary functions of the body. The term folate is derived from the Latin word folium, which means leaf.
Since leafy green vegetables are the primary source of essential B-Vitamins, hence the name folate. No matter the source, folate is critical for the multiplication of cells and the generation of genetic material (DNA).
Furthermore, folic acid also facilitates the formation of red and white blood cells, as intestine lining plus the process of skin renewal.
Are folate, Vitamin B9, and Folic Acid the same?
The terms Folate, Vitamin B9, and Folic acid are often used interchangeably, however, they are slightly different forms of B-vitamin
Let’s first take Folate, which is the naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9, mostly found in green leafy vegetables. It can be in the form of tetrahydrofolate and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, which are both metabolically active in the body.
Folic acid on the other hand is the synthetic form of Vitamin B9. It is mostly used as a dietary supplement due to its stability.
Lastly, Vitamin B9; is a broader term that includes both the natural form, which is folate, and the synthetic form which is folic acid.
Why is folate important for pregnancy?
Folate is necessary during pregnancy, so much so that some governments have included folate in their food fortification program.
It ensures that men and women do not suffer from folic acid deficiency. Here’s why folate is important for pregnancy;
Folate Boosts the Chance of a Healthy Pregnancy
Since folate is essential for health, doctors usually recommend taking folate supplements well before conception. Adequate levels of folates in the mother’s body are associated with better pregnancy outcomes.
Folate Prevents Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)
Folate is crucial for the proper development of the neural tube which eventually forms the brain of the baby and spinal cord. Folate deficiency at this critical period could be detrimental to the baby’s brain development and increase the risk of Neural Tube Defects such as anencephaly and Spina Bifida.
Folate Facilitates Cell Division and DNA Synthesis
During early pregnancy, rapid cell division occurs because the baby’s organs and tissues are developing. Since folate facilitates cell division and DNA synthesis, folate plays a key role during the development phase of the embryo. It ensures proper growth and formation of genetic material.
Folate Reduces the Risk of Birth Defects
Besides preventing Neural Tube Defects, Folate also plays a key role in lowering other anomalies.
Folate supports the growth of the heart, liver, and kidneys and ensures their proper development. It therefore significantly lowers the risk of structural abnormalities in newborns.
Folate Promotes Maternal Health
While Folate is critical for fetal health, it promotes maternal health too. It promotes the production of red blood cells which in turn reduces the risk of maternal anemia.
Symptoms of Folate Deficiency In Women
Folate deficiency could lead to several unpleasant symptoms. If you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, it’s prudent to consult a doctor and rectify folate deficiency as early as possible.
Let’s take a look at the possible symptoms of folate deficiency in women;
- Folate deficiency could lead to anemia. Its symptoms will appear as fatigue and weakness.
- If you are suffering from mouth sores or your tongue appears beefy red and swollen, it could be a sign of folate deficiency.
- If you experience shortness of breath, it could be related to folate deficiency. Since folate is essential for red blood cell production, its deficiency could lead to low blood cells and decreased oxygen capacity of the blood.
- Folate also plays a key role in neurotransmitter synthesis. Its deficiency could also lead to depression-like symptoms such as mood changes and irritability.
Can Food Items Provide Enough Folate During Pregnancy?
While it’s possible to get the necessary folate from food, during pregnancy, Dietary folate won’t be enough to meet the increased requirements. It’s because folate in vegetables is unstable and breaks down upon cooking.
In fact, booking leads to the loss of 50% to 80% loss of folate in food items. Additionally, some people might have dietary restrictions due to digestive ailments and nutrient absorption issues.
In such cases, dietary measures alone won’t be enough to meet the body’s Folate demand during pregnancy.
Is it essential to take Folate supplements during pregnancy?
Yes, women must take folate supplements during pregnancy. Doctors recommend taking folate supplements before conception.
It’s because a deficiency of folate leads to many birth defects, and these defects occur early on in the pregnancy. That’s why it becomes essential to replenish the folate in the body in the form of supplements before and during pregnancy.
How Folate Enrichment In Men Leads to Better Chances of Conception? Latest Research
Many recent studies have shown that folic acid plays a big role in spermatogenesis. It means that regular Folate intake boosts the quantity and quality of sperm.
Folic acid supplements in combination with Zinc increase the concentration of sperms which increases the chances of egg fertilization manifolds.
Folate is indeed an essential nutritional requirement before and during pregnancy. Since its deficiency could lead to serious birth complications including Neural Tube Defects, women planning to get pregnant must start taking it regularly.
Consult your doctor to start taking folate supplements depending upon the requirements of your body.
- Folate: Fact sheet for health professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/. Accessed Oct. 10, 2017.
- Folic acid safety, interactions, and effects on other outcomes. (2017).
- Henry, C. J., et al. (2017). Folate dietary insufficiency and folic acid supplementation similarly impair metabolism and compromise hematopoiesis.