Definition - What does Folic Acid mean?
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, known as vitamin B9. B vitamins are water-soluble molecules that play an important role in managing the body's metabolism, breaking down complex molecules and converting them into energy. For example, working with vitamin B12 and vitamin C, folic acid helps the body metabolize protein.
Folic acid is a crucial component for the production of new cells in the body, including red and white blood cells. Folic acid is also necessary for the creation of nucleic acid, the "N" of DNA and RNA. DNA and RNA serve as the body's cellular construction blueprints.
The body does not store or create folic acid. Thus, a steady supply of this and other B vitamins must be attained through diet or through dietary supplementation.
Natural sources of folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach, nuts, fruits, and legumes. Because of the importance of this vitamin, many breads, cereals and foods made with grains are enriched with folic acid.
Folic acid is also called folate and folacin.
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Because of the essential role folic acid plays in cell production and metabolism, a lack of folic acid can have many health consequences. Low folic acid levels can reduce the body's ability to produce red blood cells. This low red blood cell level may, in turn, cause a person to develop anemia.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant are encouraged to consume foods containing folic acid or take a folic acid supplement to ensure that they have enough of this nutrient in their body. Low folic acid during pregnancy may lead to complications such as preeclampsia or premature birth. Additionally, a pregnant mother's insufficient intake of folic acid can cause the child to have brain and spine related birth defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida.
Despite consuming foods containing folic acid, individuals may suffer a folic acid deficiency if they take medications that interfere with their body's ability to absorb the vitamin. Because folic acid may degrade quickly when exposed to light or heat, folic acid supplements should be properly stored to maintain their efficacy.