Folic acid is often recommended as a dietary supplement especially for pregnant women. But folic acid in an isolated and synthetic copy-cat of folate that is made in a laboratory. Folic acid is not folate. Folate is the natural vitamin B found in food. And this form is vital for a healthy body and mind.
Folate is an essential B vitamin (B9) for everyone. It helps to produce and maintain new cells.This is especially important in pregnancy, lactation and in growing children. Folate is also required for the manufacture of red blood cells and for the maintenance of homocysteine, an amino acid.
A deficiency of folate can be indicated by some of the following symptoms:
- low growth rate in foetus and children
- low birth weight, premature baby, baby with neural tube defects (such as spina bifida)
- anaemia in children or adults
- digestive disorders such as weight loss, loss of appetite or diarrhoea
- heart palpitations
- sore tongue
- behavioural problems
Apart from pregnancy, lactation and a growing child, increased folate is also necessary when there is food malabsorption, with alcohol and medicine use and with health disorders, particularly kidney, liver and cardiovascular diseases.
There have been many studies done on folic acid, rather than on folate, and there are as many conflicting reports. Many studies show that the addition of folic acid in pregnancy reduces the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida by 19%. Good news, you may agree. But the studies go on to suggest that this comes at a price. That the incidence of cancer has increased dramatically as a result, up by 15,000 cancer deaths a year.
Man made supplement do odd, unpredictable things. They don’t work with the body’s normal biochemical pathways. Folic acid may not be metabolised by your body. It becomes oxidised and promotes free radical production. This instability can lead to disease including cancer. At an acute level, they can make you feel sick and generally unwell.
The synthetic manufacture of folic acid is chemically complicated (at least to this author), but seems to go through a three stage chemical process that involves the chlorination of acetone, nitrobenzoyl chloride, sodium sulfite, sodium borohydride and nickel chloride to mention only a few vaguely familiar chemicals. Hydrogenation also occurs.
Food is complex and still little understood. No single vitamin (or any other nutrient) can be utilised by the body in isolation. It needs the other supportive nutrients to be properly utilised. You cannot get nutritious food out of a laboratory.
Naturally occurring folate, in food, does not have the side effects or problems common with the synthetic folic acid. Your body has evolved over millenia to know what to do with the food based nutrients.
Folic acid is usually added to processed foods such as breakfast cereals, pastas (egg noodles, macaroni, rice, etc), bread, fruit juices, some canned food and so forth. Check the ingredients of all packaged foods you purchase.
High levels of natural folate can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit and vegetables especially the legumes and in liver. It is a water soluble vitamin so can easily be destroyed by cooking.
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