What are the risks of a folate deficiency

Folate or folic acid are two terms used to refer to a type of B-complex vitamin (vitamin B9).

Although its consumption is usually associated with women, due to its importance before, during and after pregnancy, specialists recognize that we all need it. Find out here what health problems a folate deficiency can represent and how to obtain it.

Folate consumption is often recommended because our body needs it to carry out several important functions:

  • tissue development.
  • Use, break down and create new proteins.
  • Form red blood cells.
  • produce DNA.

The recommended daily intake is as follows:

  • For men and women 14 years and older: 400 micrograms.
  • Breastfeeding women: 500 micrograms.
  • Pregnant women: 600 micrograms.

This latter value is because, when taken during pregnancy, folate can protect the fetus against serious birth defects that can cause death, such as neural tube defects that affect the spine, spinal cord, or brain. It also helps prevent miscarriages early in pregnancy.

You can get folate naturally by eating different foods:

  • Rice.
  • Fruits, especially citrus.
  • Nuts.
  • Whole grains.
  • Legumes, such as peas and beans.
  • Yeasts.
  • Fortified breads, pastas or cereals.
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or Swiss chard.
  • Animal entrails.

In addition to food, you can get folate through supplements, which are usually in pill form. These usually come in doses of 400 micrograms.

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If you don’t meet your recommended daily intake for a long period of time, you may experience a deficiency.

Increased risk of dementia and death?

Folate deficiency has been linked to a variety of health problems, including an increased risk of neurological damage and death. As explained by a group of researchers in a recent paper, published in Evidence-Based Mental Health“Evidence suggests that serum folate deficiency increases the likelihood of impairments in cognitive performance and neurological functioning.”

The new study analyzed the medical records of 27,188 people between the ages of 60 and 75 who had no pre-existing dementia for at least 10 years before their blood folate levels were checked.

After accounting for co-occurring conditions such as diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiency, cognitive decline and depression, the researchers associated folate deficiency with a 68% increased risk of a dementia diagnosis. Additionally, participants with folate deficiency had three times the risk of dying from any cause.

The study’s lead author, Anat Rotstein, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said in an interview with Medical News Today that this work “is important because it critically characterizes the association between a widely used and easily measured biomarker, serum folate (vitamin B9 in the blood), and the risks of dementia and all-cause mortality.”

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Of note, when the researchers categorized their data by length of follow-up period, they were unable to eliminate the potential role of reverse causality. This means that they do not rule out that serum folate deficiency may be a consequence of the onset of dementia rather than its cause (not so with all-cause mortality).

In the event that dementia is responsible for the drop in serum folate, the authors believe it may be a useful marker to help clinicians identify people at increased risk of dementia.

Other health effects

Folate deficiency has also been linked to other health problems:

  • Megaloblastic anemia: is a decrease in red blood cells, which in turn are too large, are not fully developed and have an abnormal shape.
  • Apoplexy: is bleeding within an organ or loss of circulation to an organ.
  • Cancer: mainly breast, cervical or gastrointestinal.
  • pregnancy complications: such as deficiency and anemia in women, birth defects and even pregnancy loss.
  • Depression.
  • Gingivitis: is a type of periodontal disease that causes swollen gums.
  • gingival hyperplasia: is the growth of gum tissue.
  • high blood sugar levels.
  • Elevated blood pressure levels.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • vitiligo: is a condition that causes loss of skin pigmentation in certain areas.
  • precautions

    Folate is generally well tolerated by all people when consumed in recommended doses. However, when taking your supplements in excess, certain side effects can occur:

    • Alopecia.
    • Alteration in sleep patterns.
    • Cramps.
    • Darker urine color.
    • Confusion.
    • Redness of the skin.
    • Stomatitis.
    • Diarrhea.
    • Swelling.
    • hyperactivity
    • Irritability.
    • Myelosuppression.
    • Sickness.
    • itching
    • Urticaria.
    • The use or consumption of certain substances, such as alcohol, antacids, antibiotics, aspirin, diuretics, birth control pills or tobacco, among others, can reduce the absorption of folate, and thus increase the risk of a deficiency

      Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, Office of Dietary Supplements, Office on Women’s Health.

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