Folate is a vitamin found naturally in
certain foods. It belongs to the B group vitamins – in fact, it is also known
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 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
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
All of this happens before the woman is
even aware she is pregnant, so prevention is required before conception.
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
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 nutrients, including folate. One American Doctor
has suggested a high does of folate for three months to help CFS patients.
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.