Folic acid deficiency is a medical condition which occurs when people are not consuming enough folic acid, or they are unable to absorb this essential nutrient. If the deficiency persists, it can lead to anemia. Folic acid deficiencies are linked with a number of health problems, and for this reason, many nations mandate folic acid supplementation of foods like cereals. Supplementation has radically reduced the incidence of deficiency in many regions of the world.
Folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, can be found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and meats. In the body, it helps with the production of new blood cells, and it also plays a role in RNA and DNA replication. One of the immediate consequences of a folic acid deficiency is a decline in red blood cell production, leading to anemia. Lack of the nutrient can also contribute to the development of some cancers, and increase the risk of arteriosclerosis. In pregnant women, a folic acid deficiency can lead to birth defects.
A folic acid deficiency can be diagnosed by drawing blood. If a patient is deficient, the doctor will conduct an interview to gather information about the patient's history. If the patient has an inadequate diet or drinks a great deal of alcohol, it may be possible to correct the issue with folic acid supplements and a change in diet. In cases where the patient appears to be eating well, it may be necessary to conduct tests to see if the body is having difficulty absorbing folic acid.
Most people get the folic acid they need from daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Because folic acid is water soluble, it is expressed by the body on a regular basis, which makes it critical to absorb some every day. Although the body keeps small amounts in reserve, these reserves can quickly be depleted. Pregnant women are often encouraged to take folic acid supplements to ensure that their fetuses will be provided with enough folic acid to develop normally.
Patients with a folic acid deficiency can experience symptoms like fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and headaches. It is difficult to overdose on folic acid, because the body expresses excess folic acid when it can't use it. However, taking a lot of folic acid can sometimes conceal the signs of a deficiency in B12, another essential vitamin. B12 deficiencies can cause brain damage, making them critical to identify and correct. Excess folic acid can also impact malaria treatment.