Folic acid, also called vitamin B9, vitamin B11 or folacin, is essential for each human being and all cells of the organism. Unfortunately almost all people suffer from deficiencies of this vitamin. Lack of folic acid is especially dangerous to pregnant women, as it may cause serious fetus defects.
Folic acid (vitamin B9, vitamin B11, vitamin M, folacin or folate) is essential for all cells of our organism, from conception to old age. It is not a chemical compound, but the whole group of compounds encompassing ca. 20 pterin derivatives – a substance, which i.a. stains the color of wings of butterflies.
Folic acid: its role in the organism
Folic acid takes part in the synthesis of nucleic acids, from which DNA is produced, i.e. our genetic matrix. By the same token, it regulates the growth and functioning of all cells. Folic acid with vitamin B12 also takes part in the creation and maturation of red cells, therefore it has a blood-forming effect. We are in danger of anemia without folic acid. Scientists also claim that vitamin B9 most probably protects the organism from the development of cancer, decreases i.a. the risk of cervical cancer.
Folic acid along with other B-group vitamins also influences the level of homocysteine – an amino acid our state of health is dependent on. Although average and low concentrations of this amino acid are not dangerous to us, its high concentration may disturb physiological processes of cells. It is especially related to tissues that intensively develop.
The level of folic acid in the organism drops when we live in stress, drink coffee and alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take acetylsalicylic acid and some kinds of contraception. Its supplies are depleted by bad diet and constant weight loss.
Recent studies prove that increased concentration of homocysteine also accompanies heart diseases, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots. This amino acid may facilitate the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol, which in such a form has larger influence on the creation of atherosclerotic changes. Moreover, homocysteine accelerates the development of atherosclerosis, damaging blood vessels and decreasing the level of nitric oxide – a compound which widens them.
The organism has two mechanisms of maintaining proper homocysteine level. It may transform it in cysteine appearing in almost all proteins, especially in hair creatine or in methionine. In the course of transformations, soothing serotonin is produced from methionine, thanks to which we fall in a deep and relaxing sleep and noradrenaline that influences our daily activity. Both these compounds are classified to the so-called happiness hormones, play an important role in the nervous system and take care of well-being. It was proven that e.g. deficiency of folic acid often appears in people with depression.
Folic acid – symptoms and effects of deficiency
Deficiency of lactic acid in the organism may lead to anemia, degenerative disorders, circulatory system diseases, osteoporosis or even cancer. Among women in the early stage of pregnancy, deficiency of this vitamin increase the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.
Take folic acid before you get pregnant!
For the health of your child you need to take folic acid. As early as between 17th and 30th day after conception, the fetus starts to develop the nervous system, called neural tube. It is later transformed into spinal cord and brain.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are the result of disturbing the process of “closing” it. In such a situation, amniotic fluid reaches the brain and spinal cord. The development of these organs is stopped. It leads to the development of cleft spine, anencephaly and myelomeningocele. A child born with anencephaly may survive only for a few hours. Cleft spine, on the other hand, often causes paralysis of the lower body part, often in connection with mental impairment.
In Poland these defects appear quite often, on average 1-2 cases per 1000 childbirths. In order to prevent them, all women before planned pregnancy should take 0.4 mg of folic acid per day. Thanks to this, they may decrease the risk of neural tube defects by 75%.