Caitlin Bailey, LPC, Health Consultant
It is estimated that approximately 70% of the population is currently living with a folate deficiency. Folate is a type of B-vitamin (B9) that occurs naturally in several foods and is responsible for healthy bodily function. Folic Acid is the manmade supplement form of folate.
Why is Folate/Folic Acid important?
It’s imperative for your body to have proper folate levels, as folate is responsible for making DNA and other genetic material. Regular folate levels help prevent your body from making DNA changes that may lead to certain type of cancers. Folate is one of the main nutrients necessary for the production of red blood cells, so a folate deficiency can impair blood cell production leading to major health complications.
Folate is also essential to cardiovascular health. It reduces homocysteine levels in our blood, which in turn helps lower the risk for heart disease. Folate helps maintain balanced levels of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow.
Proper folate levels are essential for brain health. Folate helps support the nervous system by producing messenger molecules that send signals throughout the body. Research has linked the folate with the production of multiple neurotransmitters including serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for a number of functions including short-term memory, concentration, sleep, motor control, hormone control, mood stability, motivation, and appetite control.
Folic Acid and Medication
A little known, but critical fact is that several common medications deplete your body of folate, making it crucial to add folate or folic acid to your diet while taking certain prescribed medications. Low folate levels make it less likely that people will respond to certain medications such as anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications that promote a healthy mood.
There are several common medications that deplete folic acid. These include anti-inflammatory medications such as ibubrofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Other medications that deplete folic acid include Metformin (used for diabetes), Lithium (used for bipolar disorder), Methotrexate (used to treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis), Phenobarbital (an anticonvulsant) and several antidepressants.
Research suggests that taking folic acid with antidepressents helps improve depressive symptoms. Taking folic acid while on methotrexate been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting which are common side effects. Similarly, folic acid has been shown to lower blood pressure.
Where is it found?
In its natural form, folate can be found in lentils like beans and peas, vegetables like asparagus, brussels sprouts, and okra, leafy greens such as broccoli, lettuce, spinach and kale, and fruits like watermelon, banana, honeydew, and lemons. Because of it’s promising effects in disease risk reduction, in the late 90’s, federal law mandated that folic acid be added to processed carbohydrates including cereal, bread, pasta, baked goods, crackers, and cookies.
It is imperative for people taking certain medications that reduce folate levels to alter their diet, incorporating more folate rich foods. Folic acid levels in your body can become low in just a few weeks. In cases where diet is not enough, folic acid supplements should be taken. The minimum amount of daily folic acid intake should be between 400 and 600 mcg.
Folate deficiency leads to several health complications including anemia and low white blood cell count. Common side effects of folate deficiency may include fatigue, lethargy, irritability, focus and attention problems, and bowel issues. Low folic acid is correlated with the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients properly.
If you are currently prescribed to any of the above medications, or are experiencing symptoms of folic acid deficiency, call the Tarnow Center for Self-Management today to schedule a consultation at 713-621-9515.