Folic Acid

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner

By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE

Folic acid is good for everyone

Dear Pam,

My husband was recently prescribed Foltx. He has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We’re not really sure what it’s for. Can you explain it’s benefits?

Foltx is a prescription that is made up of folacin, Vitamin B6., and Vitamin B12. Your husband probably has an elevated homocysteine level which is associated with major diabetes complications. Increased doses of folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 have been shown to address the distinct nutritional needs of individuals with elevated homocysteine levels.

Folic acid, also known as folate, is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. It has garnered a great deal of attention over the last few years due to an abundance of studies that clearly demonstrate many people can benefit by including it as part of their daily vitamin regimen.

Folic acid is probably most famously noted as being a crucial vitamin for women who are trying to conceive, and those who are pregnant. It plays a vital role in the healthy development of the fetus, and is known to prevent such devastating conditions as spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

The benefits of folic acid, however, extend much wider than just pregnancy. It is a crucial nutrient for the health of the heart. It helps lower homocysteine levels. Having high homocysteine impairs blood vessels, which, in turn, makes arteries vulnerable to plaque formation. The result can be greater susceptibility to heart disease.

Additionally, people who suffer from depression may find folic acid beneficial because depression, like heart disease, is normally accompanied by elevated homocysteine levels. Low serum folate levels have been reported in psychiatric patients, particularly depressed patients, since the late 1960s. Subsequently, it was observed that rats fed a diet deficient in folic acid had significantly decreased serotonin content in the brain. It is now known that serotonin plays a role in the regulation of mood, and a deficiency of serotonin often is a factor in depression and mania. Decreased serotonin in the brains of rats was reversed by administration of physiologic amounts of folic acid.

About 60 percent patients with Crohn’s disease also have low folate levels. Other benefits of folic acid include an increased feeling of energy, and a role for this nutrient in helping counter Alzheimer’s disease.

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) stands at 400 mcg per day. Potential sources of folic acid include: whole grains, various beans, and green vegetables.

Symptoms of folate deficiency include the following: a sore, red, smooth tongue (glossitis), disturbances of the intestinal tract (diarrhea), pallor, weakness, sleeplessness, poor growth, forgetfulness, periods of euphoria.

It is estimated that 33 percent of the population may have low folic acid intake.

There are clear benefits to folate supplementation in certain segments of the population, most notably women of childbearing age, pregnant women, lactating women, and patients with coronary artery diesease. The folate levels required by these individuals, however, are unlikely to be achieved by dietary intake alone. There is growing evidence to suggest that folic acid supplementation may be beneficial in patients with depression, as well as those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with Crohns disease may benefit from folic acid supplementation.

This article was originally published November 8, 2004 in The St. Tammany News.

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