Also Known As: Folic acid, Folinic acid, Vitamin B9, Folacin, Folate
Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9, vitamin Bc or folacin) and folate (the form naturally occurring in the body), as well as pteroyl-L-glutamic acid, pteroyl-L-glutamate, and pteroylmonoglutamic acid are forms of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folic acid is itself not biologically active, but its biological importance is due to tetrahydrofolate and other derivatives after its conversion from dihydrofolic acid in the liver.
Vitamin B9 (folic acid and folate inclusive) is essential to numerous bodily functions. The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and methylate DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in biological reactions involving folate. It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy. Children and adults both require folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Folate and folic acid derive their names from the Latin word folium (which means "leaf"). Leafy vegetables are a principal source, although in Western diets fortified cereals and bread may be a larger dietary source.
A lack of dietary folic acid leads to folate deficiency, which is uncommon in normal Western diets. A complete lack of dietary folate takes months before deficiency develops as normal individuals have about 500–20,000 µg of folate in body stores. This deficiency can result in many health problems, the most notable one being neural tube defects in developing embryos. Common symptoms of folate deficiency include diarrhea, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness (peripheral neuropathy), pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive declines, mental depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Low levels of folate can also lead to homocysteine accumulation. DNA synthesis and repair are impaired and this could lead to cancer development.[