IMPORTANT: The information on this site should never be used to self medicate or to self diagnose. Always contact your health care provider before using any kind of supplementation or making any extreme change in diet.
Frank picked up the phone on the third ring. It was his doctor’s office telling him that his test results were back and that Dr. Shaw wanted to discuss the results with him.
The following afternoon Frank drove to the doctor’s office. He was apprehensive wondering why the doctor wanted to see him so soon after receiving the results.
“What do you eat normally, Frank?” asked Dr. Shaw? “I mean what is in your daily diet?”
“Well, I usually start the day with coffee and an apple. I’m trying to get my weight down. For lunch I usually grab a couple of ounces of cheese and some french bread. I find that keeps me satisfied for a few hours. At about four o’clock I grab a few hard candies to keep me going until dinner. For dinner I usually have a lean steak or some lean chicken with a baked potato and a few vegetables.”
“I keep my calories down around the 2000 per day mark.” He said proudly.
Frank was quite sure that his diet was not the problem. He got a good amount of exercise and kept his calorie count to a minimum.
“Your homocysteine levels are very high,” said the doctor.
“My what?” said Frank.
“Although homocysteine is necessary for our bodies health, a build up of it in our blood stream can cause degradation in our artery walls. This build up can be prevented by eating foods which are high in folate but your diet contains almost no folate,” explained Dr. Shaw. “You need to stop the breaking down of your artery walls” he continued, “or you will develop serious heart problems. I believe we’ve caught this in time but lets get you to a dietitian.”
WHAT IS FOLATE ?
Vitamin B9 is a water soluble vitamin which goes by the names: folic acid and folate. Folic acid, the most stable form of the vitamin is used in supplements. Neither can be used by the body directly so are converted to dihydrofolic acid in the liver.
For simplicities sake we will refer to Vitamin B9 as Folate.
A. As was explained to Frank by his doctor the amino acid called homocysteine is needed in a process called the methylation process which helps to regulate gene expression, protein function and RNA metabolism. All are important to the execution and maintaining of our lives. However, and there always seems to be an ‘however,’ when tests show we have too much homocysteine in our blood it is an indicator of cardiovascular problems leading to heart attacks and strokes. It degrades and inhibits the structural components of the arteries: collagen, elastin and proteoglycans. Regulating homocysteine in the blood helps in reducing cardiovascular disease.
So what does folate have to do with homocysteine, you may ask?
Folate along with other B vitamins and some minerals aids in converting excess amounts of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood into the amino acids methionine or cysteine. The amount of homocysteine in the blood is regulated by three B vitamins: B9 (folate), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin).
Too much bio speak? Folate reduces the amount of homocysteine in the blood thus reducing damage to our artery walls and in doing so helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.
B. What’s in your DNA – brown eyes, good bone structure, clear skin?
Our DNA is the blueprint on which our bodies operate…the instruction manual, so to speak.
Folate coenzymes are involved in the creation, repairing and regulating of DNA. It is especially important in the processes of cell division and growth. Folate is needed to produce the substance called thymidine which is one of the four building blocks of DNA.
C. Feeling tired, run down, no energy? Maybe you need a little more folate in your diet. Folate is involved in producing healthy red and white blood cells. A deficiency in healthy red blood cells leads to anaemia which leads to fatigue.
D. Sorry, I can’t remember. Vitamin B9 has also been shown by one study to increase short-term memory, mental agility, and verbal fluency in people taking twice the recommended daily amount.
E. Folate has been shown to decrease the occurrence of allergic diseases. Diagnosis of asthma made by doctors decreases when folate levels are good. However, a note of caution, folate supplementation during the late stages of pregnancy is implicated in an increase of asthma and poor respiratory function in young children.
F. Folate is necessary for both men and women to become fertile and on the other side of life it helps relieve hot flashes in postmenopausal women by interacting with the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin.
G. The risk of developing macular degeneration is decreased by up to 34% according to one study (Women’s Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study/2009) by using supplements containing folic acid, pyridoxine and cyanocobalamin. (Vitamin’s B9, B6 & B12)
H. And last but not least 5-12 mg. of folic acid supplementation per week has a protective effect against rheumatoid arthritis.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T GET ENOUGH FOLIC ACID ?
Too little dietary folate results in incomplete spinal development (neural tube defects) in developing embryos; increased amounts of the amino acid, homocysteine, leading to cardiovascular problems and impaired DNA synthesis and repair which can lead to the development of cancer. Folate deficiency may lead to many of the same problems as a deficiency in the other B vitamins such as diarrhea, depression, confusion, anaemia and in the embryonic stage, brain defects. In the elderly low folate intake is associated with an increased likelihood of short term memory loss.
If you are taking folic acid supplements make sure that you are getting enough Vitamin B12 because folic acid masks vitamin B12 deficiency.
Folate deficiency is usually caused by poor diet but can also be caused by alcoholism and impaired absorption due to intestinal problems.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GET TOO MUCH FOLATE ?
It is unlikely that a person could get too much folate.
Getting the upper limit of 1000 mcg of folate from food is very difficult so getting too much is unlikely and furthermore no adverse effects have ever been seen with the excess consumption of folate from food.
It is, however, important not to get too much folate during the late stages of pregnancy from supplements.
WHERE DO WE GET FOLATE ?
Lower cancer rates and the consumption of no less than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day are highly correlated. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of folate and folate is involved in the repairing of DNA. Damaged DNA leads to malignant cell growth therefore if the DNA is repaired there is a less likely chance of cancer growth.
The words folate and folic acid are derived from the latin word folium which means leaf. Leafy vegetables are a primary source of folic acid but as can be seen by the table above lentils are the best source.
Folate is susceptible to high heat and to UV rays and is soluble in water.
Adding folic acid along with several other micronutrients to our food supply has helped to increase our overall health substantially by decreasing the number of deformities in fetal development and by decreasing other preventable diseases caused by a lack of these nutrients.
It is, however, possible to get too much folic acid from supplements as to mask vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency can result in irreversible neurological damage.
Linus Pauling Institute