Folic acid, variously known as folate and folacin, is the chemical name of vitamin B9. Folic acid is sparingly soluble in water and stable in acidic solutions. However, it gets broken down easily on being heated so cooking natural sources of this vitamin often destroys this nutrient.
In combination with vitamin B12, folic acid plays a crucial role in maintaining a proper balance of red blood cells in the body. It also plays a significant role in the multiplication of nerve cells and in producing neural transmitters. Folic acid is also responsible for the proper production of RNA and DNA, which are essential for the transmission of genetic patterns from parent to child.
It also plays a significant part in the metabolism of proteins and therefore is necessary for normal growth and development of the body.
Folic acid is essential for the proper development of the fetus in pregnant women and for preventing any congenital defects in the baby. It also boosts lactation in new mothers. It also ensures that the skin and hair remain in good health and prevents premature appearance of wrinkles and graying. Insufficient consumption of natural sources of folic acid is the primary reason for the deficiency of this nutrient in the body. Also, sometimes the body is unable to assimilate the vitamin adequately due to some underlying problem.
This could result from excessive drinking or smoking, prolonged illness, stress, and regular consumption of contraceptive pills or certain kinds of antibiotics. The deficiency of folic acid may lead to anemia, especially in pregnant women whose body requirement for this nutrient is greater than others. The condition may go undetected for quite some time as it manifests very few symptoms initially.
One of the earliest signs of folic acid deficiency is fatigue. This is followed by skin pigmentation problems and hair loss. Loss of appetite, gradual weight loss, nervousness and irritability, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness and depression are also common symptoms of this condition. If left untreated, this may subsequently lead to an unhealthy increase in the rate of heartbeat, reproductive disorders in women, decrease in libido in men, and an increased vulnerability to allergic attacks like asthma. Folic acid deficiency in children may also render them susceptible to renal disorders. Once a confirmatory blood test is done, vitamin B supplements are recommended for treatment. In addition, eating increased amounts of raw, green, leafy vegetables, legumes, sea fish and soy products should also help.
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