What’s all the fuss about folate?
Folate (B9) is the generic term for a group of structurally related b-vitamins. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate,and is used in supplements and food fortification. Human exposure to folic acid did not occur until its chemical synthesis in 1943. Folate refers to the various natural tetrahydrafolate (THF) derivatives occurring in food. When absorbed, folate enters the circulation and is distributed to various tissues throughout the body whilst 50% of our folate is stored in the liver. Folate plays a vital role in gene (DNA/RNA) synthesis, the metabolism of B12, and prevention of neural tube defects in babies. Folate is also essential for functioning of the central nervous system and immune system.
Natural folates are metabolized to THF in gut mucosa, folic acid on the other hand, is metabolized in the liver. This process requires an enzyme, dihydrofolate reductase (DR) to convert it to THF. THF is the only folate form utilized by the body. Low DR enzyme in the liver and high folic acid intake may cause high levels of un-metabolized folic acid to enter the circulation. There is some concern regarding the risks of excessive folic acid intake. High serum folic acid can mask B12 deficiency, also a decline in the central nervous system in the elderly. High folic acid is associated with an increased risk of some cancers. Deficiency of folate is associated with high homocysteine and an increased risk of heart disease. Excellent sources of folate are parsley, turnip, spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, beets and lentils.
References supplied on request.
By Alison Millican who is available for clinical naturopathic consultations in Ballina and
Traditional Medicinals Lismore.