Folic acid, what it is used for and its benefits in pregnancy

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Folic acid

Folic acid is also known as Vitamin B9 o folacina. It is essential at all ages, from preconception to old age, for both children and adults. Our body uses this molecule for produce new cells.

It is practically a "building block" in the synthesis of the nitrogenous bases of nucleic acids and amino acids, therefore essential for the "production" of DNA and proteins and also for the formation of hemoglobin, thus preventing anemia. It is particularly important for those tissues that undergo the processes of proliferation and differentiation, such as embryonic tissues.

For this folic acid has been recognized as essential in prevention of some congenital malformations in the unborn child, such as DTN that is defects of the neural tube (eg spina bifida, a serious pathology of the spinal column which can then lead to motor difficulties in the child). In addition to being essential for cognitive activity and for the prevention of some cardiovascular diseases.

Where to find it: the richest foods

As the National Institute of Health specifies, folate and folic acid should not be confused, as they have one different chemical composition. We introduce folate through food, while folic acid (a synthetic molecule) is present in supplements that we then take orally in the form of tablets.

Foods that are rich in folate are varied. It is about green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, chard, turnips, lettuce, but also red turnips, asparagus, artichokes, rocket, vegetable (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils), citrus fruits (especially oranges) e dried fruit (almonds and walnuts). All these foods should never be missing from our daily diet, especially if the individual is folate deficient or a woman who is looking for pregnancy or is already pregnant. In this last case, since these are "particular" conditions, it is necessary to integrate vitamin B9 through "supplements", folic acid supplements, which should be taken considering the national protocols and of course on medical indication.

The benefits of folic acid

There are various benefits that folic acid can give to our body. Let's summarize the main ones:

  1. it fights anemia precisely because the folate molecule intervenes in the synthesis of DNA and hemoglobin proteins. The latter is the pigment found in red blood cells and which, thanks to iron, carries oxygen to all body tissues.
  2. Benefits for the heart and circulation.
  3. Prevents Depression.
  4. It has mental health benefits.
  5. It counteracts hair loss, precisely because folic acid acts in the biosynthesis processes of our body, and therefore also important for the regeneration of the scalp.
  6. Proper functioning of the nervous system.
  7. It has benefits for the bone marrow.
  8. It is a useful support for pregnancy, as it prevents congenital defects and malformations affecting the new born.

Folic acid deficiency: what it entails and the symptoms

In the case of a low folate value, which can be found through a simple blood test and sample, the individual may experience asthenia, complain of weakness and have fatigue, both physical and mental (insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating).

These neurological disorders or deficits precisely because folate are essential in the synthesis of some neurotransmitters such as glutamic acid (excitatory amino acid released in the central nervous system). The subject may develop anemia of the megaloblastic macrocytic type, ie the red blood cells appear abnormally shaped and have a very short life.

Folic acid deficiency could give you a headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath. You could also have imperfect healing and therefore the appearance of small wounds on the tongue or inside the mouth, as well as changes in skin color, hair loss and brittleness of the nails.

Let's not forget the folate deficiency during pregnancy, which increases the risk that the unborn child may have neurological deficits like those affecting the neural tube (embryonic structure from which the vertebral column originates), the most common is precisely the spina bifida, where practically the spinal cord is not well enclosed between the vertebrae and can be damaged to the point of causing problems muscles such as paralysis in the legs.

Folic acid overdose: side effects

Although it is known that folic acid supplementation is essential for the well-being of our body, it is a widely known fact that even a excess in its intake it can have side effects that should not be underestimated.

Let's remember first of all what the recommended dosage to follow: 200/300 mcg (micrograms) for adults, 400 mcg (micrograms) in pregnancy.

That said, if an excessive amount of folic acid is taken, but in any case less than 100 mcg, a series of symptoms. The most common are: redness of the skin, cramps, diarrhea, bitter taste in the mouth, flatulence, stomatitis, hives, dry and scaly skin, nausea, mood alteration, alopecia, itching, change in the natural color of the urine (the color becomes more load).

Side effects from overdose greater than 1000 mcg are quite rare. Excitability, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia. In the case of epileptic subjects who take excessive doses of folic acid, the symptoms of seizures are accentuated.

Pregnancy and folic acid

Considering the role of folic acid, it has long been talked about its importance in preconception and in pregnancy, because its intake reduces the risk that that newborn may have a congenital neural tube deficiency (NTD) including spina bifida (closure incomplete of one or more vertebrae), anencephaly (completely or partially missing the cranial vault) and encephalocele (leaking brain and meningeal tissue from the skull).

In pregnancy, however, the only supplementation with food is not sufficient to cover the daily needs. Therefore, it is recommended that all women planning a pregnancy or who do not actively exclude the possibility of taking folic acid with supplements.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that the intake of folate during gestation is effective in reducing up to 70% the risk of neural tube defects. The recommended dosage is 400 mcg (micrograms) per day, starting one month before conception and continuing until the end of the third trimester of pregnancy.

Read also: Endorphin: the 'drug' produced by the body that helps to give birth

Folic acid and its importance in humans

Folate are not only fundamental molecules for women. Vitamin B9 has benefits also for man, as it contributes to the health and motility of spermatozoa. In fact, with an adequate supply of folic acid, the number of spermatozoa with genetic defects is reduced. However, in order to choose the most appropriate therapy in order to optimize the quality of male gametic cells, experts recommend that men undergo a spermiogram a priori.

Nails and hair: their link with folic acid

Excellent indicators of the presence of folic acid in our body are above all the nails and hair. In fact, the signs of evident folate deficiency are above all a weakening of the nails and hair loss, which in the most serious cases can lead to total flakingor of the skin appendages themselves.

At the level of the hair, a clear sign of vitamin B9 deficiency is the thinning of the hair and loss of the original color. Similar situation for the nails that tend to have spots or to split even after minor bumps.

Contraindications to the use of folic acid

Not everyone can take folic acid supplements with a light heart. So here's one more reason for consult your doctor to start taking the vitamin, if needed, without taking risks. In fact, these folate products could cause side effects in those suffering from kidney disease, infections or who are anemic.

Plus folic acid might interacts with other drugs, compromising its correct action. For example, those who take drugs to lower blood pressure must strictly comply with the folate dosages provided, as the vitamin could cause a further more or less significant reduction in blood pressure.

The "folic acid market" 

There are many folic acid-based products on the market, with different prices, among which it may not be easy to extricate yourself. Among the best known we mention the folina, a generic drug that also costs quite inexpensive, around 2 euros per pack. Pregnant women are often recommended as a product Folidex, drug also loanable. More expensive supplements are the Floridal or Prefolic.

In the country, however, folic acid is included in the list of fully reimbursable drugs (band A). Therefore, a medical prescription is sufficient to be able to purchase the drug, paying only the ticket. Alongside these "pure" drugs, there are also multivitamin complexes that also include iron and other vitamins of the B complex, which can be found at different prices, both in pharmacies and supermarkets (Natalbensupra, Materna DHA, MulticentrumMamma).

It is always advisable to consult your doctor and evaluate with the same the folic acid supplement most suitable for your needs, also considering the quality / price ratio, and in any case avoiding the do-it-yourself.

In conclusion ...

We therefore understood how important folic acid is for our body and for our health. For men in general and especially for pregnant women. Of course, it is always advisable to consult your doctor before starting folate supplementation. Get adequate information, know. Only in this way will it be possible to make a sensible choice on whether or not to use the drug.

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