Pregnancy Health and Safety (Prenatal Care)
Vitamins and Supplements

What part of your body does folic acid help?


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No, not at all. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps your cells to grow normally and can help prevent birth defects in unborn babies so it is very important for pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, as well as being a part of any person's healthy diet, male or female. Iron is used in producing hemoglobin, the main protein in red blood cells. Both folic acid and iron are good for you, but they do very different jobs in your body and one cannot take the place of the other.

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A fatty acid is a carboxylic acid. This is part of the body.

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Folic acid is a part of the B complex of vitamins. It is vital for red blood cells and for many other cells in the body. The form of folic acid occurring naturally in food is called 'folate'.Functions of folic acidFolic acid, along with vitamin B12, is important for formation of red blood cells. Lack of these two vital nutrients leads to variety of anemia called macrocytic anemia. This means the red blood cells appear bloated and large and have a reduced capacity to carry oxygen. Folate along with other B vitamins are also vital for nerve function. Folate is essential for the formation of DNA (genetic material) within every body cell. This allows normal replication of cells.Biochemically folates act as chemicals that medicate one-carbon transfer reactions. These are important for formation of purines and pyrimidines. These purines and pyrimidines form basic building blocks for DNA.vitamin B9

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DefinitionFolate deficiency means you have a lower than normal amount of folic acid, a type of B vitamin, in your blood.See also: Folic acidAlternative NamesDeficiency - folic acid, Folic acid deficiencyCauses, incidence, and risk factorsFolic acid works with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and make new proteins. The vitamin helps form red blood cells. It also helps produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information.Folic acid is a type of B vitamin. It is water-soluble, which means it is not stored in the fat tissues of the body. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine.Because folate is not stored in the body in large amounts, your blood levels of folate will get low after only a few weeks of eating a diet low in folate. You can get folate by eating green leafy vegetables and liver.Causes of folate deficiency are:Diseases in which folic acid is not absorbed well, such as celiac disease(sprue) or Crohn's diseaseDrinking too much alcoholEating overcooked foodGetting too much folic acid during the third trimester of pregnancyHemolytic anemiaMedications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), sulfasalazine, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazolePoor diet (often seen in the poor, the elderly, and people who do not eat fresh fruits or vegetables)SymptomsFolic acid deficiency may cause:FatigueGray hairMouth sores (ulcers)Poor growthSwollen tongueSigns and testsFolate deficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test. Pregnant women usually have such blood tests during prenatal checkups.ComplicationsComplications include:Anemia (low red blood cell count)Low levels of white blood cells and platelets (in severe cases)In folate-deficiency anemia, the red blood cells are abnormally large (megaloblastic).Folic acid is also needed for the development of a healthy fetus. It plays an important part in the development of the fetus' spinal cord and brain. Folic acid deficiency can cause severe birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, known as neural tube defects.PreventionThe best way to get the daily requirement of all essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide plate. Most people in the United States eat enough folic acid because it is plentiful in the food supply.Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:Beans and legumesCitrus fruits and juicesDark green leafy vegetablesLiverPoultry, pork, and shellfishWheat bran and other whole grainsThe Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 400 micrograms of folate daily. Women who could become pregnant should take folic acid supplements to ensure that they get enough each day.Specific recommendations depend on a person's age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Many foods now have extra folic acid added to help prevent birth defects.See: Folic acid in diet for the full folic acid requirements by age group.See: Folic acid and birth defect prevention for more information on folic acid requirements during pregnancy.ReferencesAntony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 170.Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr., Shattil SJ, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008:chap 39.Hamrick I, Counts SH. Vitamin and mineral supplements. Prim Care. 2008;35:729-747.Reviewed ByReview Date: 08/24/2011David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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