Folate also known as folic acid is a member of the B vitamin family, derived from the term “foliage”. Folic acid is found in dark leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, meat, and wheat germ. Let’s look at how folic acid is found in nature, how folic acid might help in birth defects, and help with cancer treatment.
Folic acid occurs in two forms in nature folic acid or folate. The only place you will find folic acid is in fortified foods or multiple vitamins. B vitamins need to be in their active form for the body to utilize them. All B vitamins have to be coenzymated by the liver the active form before the body can absorb them. Folic acid is usually found in the form of folate. Folate is the most commonly use form of folic acid because it is highly bioavailable and chemically stable. Folate is easily reduced to tetrahydrofolate, the active coenzyme form of folate.
Folate is most always absorbed in the small intestines. Folate is converted or metabolized into 5-methylterahydrofolate when absorbed across the intestinal mucosa. When folic acid in the form of folate is taken on an empty stomach, almost one hundred percent is absorbed into the bloodstream. Digestibility of folic acid with foods is estimated at fifty percent and folic acid that is not in the form of folate is estimated at eighty five percent. Recently, studies have been performed on the digestibility of folic acid in supplements verses foods fortified. They discovered that dietary supplements provide more bioavailable folic acid than foods. For example, one study compared folic acid in supplement form verses orange juice that is fortified with folic acid, the dietary supplement won in terms of a better absorption rate.
Pregnant women can benefit the most from taking folic acid daily. In the United States alone there are over three thousand pregnancies with neural tube birth defects. Neural tube is formed early in pregnancy which later turns into the brain and spine on babies. When the neural tube does not form correctly early in pregnancy, the baby can grow up with life long disabilities or worst case it can cause death. The two most common neural tube defects are known as spinal bifida and anencephaly. Studies have found that a folic acid deficiency can cause a neural tube defect early in pregnancy. The U.S. Public Health Service and March of Dimes recommends that all women in child bearing years should take folic acid in no less than 400 micrograms per day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects while pregnant. The studies have been so conclusive that even the FDA has authorized a disease risk reduction health claim that folic acid can reduce the risk of birth defects in pregnant women.
One study in 2004 was done by the Lewin Group found that in 10.5 million women of childbearing age who took 400 micrograms of folic acid. This study showed six hundred fewer babies were born with neural tube defects which provided a significant reduction in medical costs. Estimated savings of 1.3 billion in lifetime medical costs just in the five years this study has been out.
Also, researchers have discovered that cancer cells have a natural attraction to folic acid. This opens a whole new area of drug therapies that could become available for cancer patients. Folic acid could be used as a nontoxic carrier for chemotherapy drugs. Researchers at the fourth annual Gene, Drug Therapy and Molecular Biology meeting, suggested that conventional chemotherapy drugs could be used to destroy cancer cells with folic acid as the carrier. Researchers have found that folic acid is over-expressed in certain cancers: especially cancers of the ovary, cervix, endometrium, kidney, breast, brain, lung, and colon. Researchers said that tumors resistant to typical chemotherapy treatments gobble up folic acid. Researchers estimate that over 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancers that over-express the folate receptor in the United States alone. These cancer cells have 500,000 times greater affinity for folic acid than normal healthy cells. Drugs with folic acid as a carrier can find those hard to reach cancer cells while avoiding the normal healthy cells.
Folic acid looks like a very promising B vitamin supplement to aid in wide range of diseases. If you are in child bearing years or undergoing cancer treatment, always consult your health care provider before starting a new supplement regiment. Remember when looking for folic acid, always read the label and make sure the folic acid you are taking is in the form of folate. Great supplements like Folic Acid can be found at your local or internet health food store.