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What is Folate?

By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Folate is a vitamin found naturally in certain foods. It belongs to the B group vitamins – in fact, it is also known as B9.

The synthetic (or man made) version of this nutrient is called Folic acid. The only differences between the two are how they are made (naturally or synthetically) and how the body uses them; the human body completely uses folic acid but only absorbs and uses some of the folate.

Folate is important in the growth and development of new cells and making of DNA, especially in embryos. It also helps to regulate the level of an amino acid called homocystine.

Folate and pregnancy

Taking folate daily is important for any woman who may get pregnant, whether she is planning to or not. It is estimated that about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so prevention is relevant for all women.

Within the first 17 to 30 days of pregnancy (4 to 6 weeks after her last period), the baby’s neural tube is formed and closes. This tube will become the spine and brain of the baby, so it is very important to get it right.

Sometimes, the tube doesn’t close properly and the spinal cord is exposed to the amniotic fluids. This results in spina bifida (the spine is affected and the child will be somewhat paralysed) or anencephaly (the brain is affected ad the child won’t survive much beyond birth, if that.) These conditions are both known as neural tube defects, or NTDs.

All of this happens before the woman is even aware she is pregnant, so prevention is required before conception.

Women taking 400 micrograms of folate each day has saved 7 out of 10 NTD births happening. The important time is to take it for the month before getting pregnant, and at least three months afterwards. Some experts also suggest pregnant women take 600 micrograms throughout the pregnancy itself as it is important in other developmental stages for the embryo.

Folate in pregnancy also lessens the risk of cleft palates and cleft lips by 25 to 50%.

Other medical uses for folate

Research is being carried out to confirm other medical benefits for the use of folate.

It has been shown that taking folate will reduce the amount of homocystine in the blood in both men and women. High levels of homocystine make it more likely a stroke or heart disease will occur, so there is some belief that regular folate doses will reduce heart disease and stroke. English research suggests that 800 micrograms a day has a 15% drop in angina and heart attack cases.

USA researchers discovered that 15 to 38% of depressed people in a study had very low levels of folate. Using folate as therapy, these depressive people noticed improvements within six weeks.

Crohn’s disease patients are known to have a higher risk of stroke and heart disease. Recent research showed that these people have high homocystine and high folate levels, which is consistent with the heart disease findings. Crohn’s patients may therefore benefit fro m regular folate doses, too.

One effect of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a deficiency in some nutritents, including folate. One American Doctor has suggested a high does of folate for three months to help CFS patients.

Regular doses of folate have also reduced the risk of breast, pancreatic and colon cancer in some studies. These results need further investigation, but folate does appear to be important for healing and preventing DNA replication mistakes.

Folate is generally good for our health and is safe for everyone to take.


Mother of two, Melbourne writer, Tash Hughes writes articles on health and family issues for ezines, websites and magazines. Tash also owns Word Constructions to help business owners have a professional presentation on paper and on the internet. For all your business writing needs, contact Word Constructions then get on with business.

© 2004, Tash Hughes

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