Folic acid deficiency is a situation whereby the folic acid levels in the body become very low. Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that helps to repair the DNA of the body. (1)(2) Also, it helps the production of red blood cells (RBCs). When the folic acid level in one’s diet is low, that person can end up with folic acid deficiency.
To get enough folic acid for the optimal functioning of your body, certain foods that are good sources of folate are recommended. Such foods are dark green vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, grain products, and more. When folic acid levels in your body are low, it can result in a deficiency in just a few short weeks. You can also experience folic acid deficiency if you have a genetic mutation or a disease that doesn’t allow your body to absorb or convert folate into its usable form, methylfolate. (1)
A folate deficiency can lead to anemia (a condition where the body has fewer RBCs than needed). Red blood cells carry the oxygen needed by the tissues of the body, so having a low red blood cell count can deprive the tissues of the oxygen they need in order to function effectively.
Main Causes of Folic Acid Deficiency
Diet: One of the main causes of folic acid deficiency is a diet that is very low in fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, overcooking foods can oftentimes destroy the inherent vitamins contained in the food. If you don’t get a diet that is rich in folate, your body’s folic acid level will become low and in turn lead to a deficiency.
Genetics: Many individuals have a polymorphism, or a genetic mutation that prevents their body from efficiently transforming the dietary folate to its immediately usable form, methylfolate. In such situations, the solution will be to take the folate in its active form, methylfolate, so that the body doesn’t have to convert it.
Diseases: Folic acid deficiency can arise as a result of certain diseases that affect absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, for example, Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
Excessive intake of alcohol: Too much alcohol in the human body is never a good thing, as this significantly interferes with the absorption of folic acid. In addition, it also increases the excretion of folate through the urine.
Side effects of some medications: Some medications like phenytoin (Dilantin), Primidone, Triamterene, Glucophage or Metformin, Barbiturates, Methotrexate, Warfarin, sulfasalazine, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole can cause folic acid deficiency.
How to Prevent Folic Acid Deficiency
Consumption of foods rich in folate is the best way to prevent folic acid deficiency. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are good sources of folate. Super B complex vitamins will also play a positive role in preventing this type of deficiency.
When you cook your foods, consider using a food steamer to “lightly steam” as this helps keep more folate content in the cooked foods, thereby helping you prevent folic acid deficiency.
Folic acid deficiency can often occur in pregnant women, and it increases the risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects. Oral B vitamin supplements are recommended for pregnant women during and after pregnancy.
Excessive intake of alcohol should be avoided if one wants to maintain their body’s folate levels. Pregnant women should stay away from alcohol, entirely.