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Studies suggest that vitamin B9 may be associated with depression more than any other nutrient, and may play a role in the high incidence of depression in the elderly. Learn about the usage, dosage, side-effects of Vitamin B9.

Also Known As:folate, folic acid, folacin

Overview

Vitamin B9, also called folic acid or folate, is one of eight water-soluble B vitamins. All B vitamins help the body to convert carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which is "burned" to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B complex vitamins, are essential in the breakdown of fats and protein. B complex vitamins also play an important role in maintaining muscle tone along the lining of the digestive tract and promoting the health of the nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver.

Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental and emotional health. It aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the body's genetic material, and is especially important during periods of high growth, such as infancy, adolescence and pregnancy. Folic acid also works closely together with vitamin B12 to regulate the formation of red blood cells and to help iron function properly in the body.

Vitamin B9 works closely with vitamins B6 and B12 as well as the nutrients betaine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) to control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Elevated levels of this substance appear to be linked to certain chronic conditions such as heart disease and, possibly, depression and Alzheimer's Disease. Some researchers have even speculated that there is a connection between high levels of this amino acid and cervical cancer, but the results of studies regarding this have been inconclusive.


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Folic acid deficiency is the most common B vitamin deficiency. Animal foods, with the exception of liver, are poor sources of folic acid. Plant sources rich in folic acid are frequently not obtained in adequate amounts in the diet. Alcoholism, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease contribute to deficiency of this important nutrient. Folic acid deficiency can cause poor growth, tongue inflammation, gingivitis, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, diarrhea, irritability, forgetfulness, and mental sluggishness.

Pregnancy can put a woman at risk for folic acid deficiency as the fetus easily depletes a mother's nutrient reserves.

Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk for neural tube defects including cleft palate, spina bifida, and brain damage. Neural tube defects are birth defects caused by abnormal development of the neural tube, a structure that eventually gives rise to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the addition of folic acid to many grain foods (such as bread and cereal). Since this time, the prevalence of neural tube defects in the United States has decreased.

 


Vitamin B9 Uses

Birth Defects: As mentioned, pregnant women who are deficient in folic acid are more likely to have children with birth defects. Many neural tube defects (such as spina bifida) are believed to be preventable if women of childbearing age supplement their diets with folic acid. This is why women planning on becoming pregnant should be taking a multivitamin with plenty of folate, and why all pregnant women receiving prenatal care are put on a prenatal vitamin.

Studies have found that women who take folic acid supplements before conception and during the first trimester may reduce their risk of having children with neural tube defects by 72% to 100%. A recent study found that the prevalence of neural tube defects in the United States has decreased by 19% since the FDA authorized the fortification of grains with folic acid. Even though this connection seems strong, it is not known whether folic acid or factors other than this vitamin that contributed to this substantial decline.

Recent studies in test tubes brings into question whether there is a connection between elevated homocysteine (and, therefore, folate deficiency) in the mother and Down's syndrome in the child. Preliminary information also raises question about the possibility of folate supplements during pregnancy preventing the development of childhood leukemia. More research is needed in both of these areas before any conclusions can be drawn.

Miscarriage: Clinically, many naturopathic and other doctors recommend the use of vitamin B complex 50 mg per day with additional folic acid 800 to 1,000 mcg per day to try to prevent miscarriage (also known as spontaneous abortion). These practices for prevention of spontaneous abortion are supported by some studies suggesting a connection between impaired homocysteine metabolism and recurrent miscarriages. This conclusion is not without debate, however, with some experts arguing that it is difficult to determine from most studies to date whether it is low folate or other factors contributing to an increased incidence of spontaneous abortion. It is important to know that there are many, many reasons for a miscarriage. In fact, most commonly, there is no explanation for why a woman has miscarried.