Folate is a water-soluble vitamin that is important in making and repairing DNA as well as making red blood cells. Folate is not stored in fat cells so levels can easily deplete if not maintained. Reduction of folate can occur predominantly with dietary deficiencies. It can also happen as a result of disease or as a side effect of medication. Folate is very important for women of childbearing age as deficiencies can lead to birth defects, therefore supplements are always recommended for pregnant women. Folate deficiency can also lead to anaemia, which can reduce the amount of oxygen available to your tissues and cells.
Folate deficiency on its own can lead to subtle symptoms like tiredness, irritability, mouth ulcers, swelling of the tongue or greying of the hair.
As folate deficiency can lead to anaemia, the symptoms of anaemia include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain, pale skin and dizziness.
Folate deficiency can be caused by diet. Folate is added to cereals, citrus juices and is also found in leafy green vegetables, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Lack of these foods in the diet or overcooking them can destroy necessary vitamins and reduce their availability. Alcohol also has a similar effect.
Certain diseases that affect bowel absorption can also affect the ability of folate to be properly absorbed. Examples include coeliac disease, crohn's disease and bowel cancers. Genetic diseases such as MTHFR can also affect the body's ability to convert folate into an active form in the body.
Medications such as trimethoprim (used for urinary tract infections), methotrexate and sulfasalazine (used in joint, skin and autoimmune conditions) and phenytoin (seizure medication) can all cause folate deficiency.
An important step for treating and preventing folate deficiency is to increase dietary intake of folate sources. Foods high in folate legumes and lentils, eggs and leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, brussel sprouts and broccoli and nuts and seeds.
Folic acid supplements can also be prescribed if your doctor thinks you may need extra help correcting your levels. If you have folate deficiency it is advised to avoid alcohol. Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements at 400 micrograms daily and avoid alcohol intake.
Folate deficiency is quite easily treatable. If untreated for some time, there is an increased risk of certain cancers and increased risk of heart disease. When pregnant, it poses the greatest risk to the unborn child causing birth defects, but it can also make it difficult to get pregnant.
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