Folate or vitamin B9 or vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for cell metabolism. It also helps synthesize DNA, RNA, and proteins. It is a specific compound, but we often use the word folate to refer to a class of similar compounds.
Most Americans are able to get a sufficient amount of folate through their diet. With the exception of vegetarians, folate deficiency suggests that there is a problem with absorbing folate. Folate deficiency can be suspected when someone has unexplained anemia or macrocytosis, which is the enlargement of red blood cells. Someone who does not have a sufficient amount of folate may have a folate deficiency, which may give a person problems with tiredness and weakness among many other symptoms.
What is Folate Deficiency?
Folate helps the body perform important functions such as maintaining the health and robustness of the nervous system. Folate deficiency occurs when somebody does not have a sufficient amount of folate in their blood, which can cause the body to produce enlarged blood cells that do not function properly.
What are the Causes of Folate Deficiency?
Certain types of medication can cause folate deficiency. Anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors can affect how your body absorbs vitamins.
Various health conditions
Your immune system might attack healthy cells in your stomach which may prevent your body from absorbing vitamin B12 from the food you eat leading to folate deficiency. Other health conditions that may cause a deficiency in folate may include kidney diseases that entail dialysis, select forms of cancers, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. The said diseases are usually diseases that affect the digestive function of the gastrointestinal tract.
You may lack vitamins in your diet if you are vegan or have a poor diet. Overcooking can also cause essential vitamins to be destroyed leading to folate deficiency if foods are constantly overcooked.
An individual’s genetic makeup can also determine if a person will have some form of folate deficiency. Certain mutations of the genes can prevent the efficient and proper transformation of folate into a form that is more suited for the processing of the body called methyl folate.
Excess intake of alcohol
The excess intake of alcohol can lead to folate deficiency as alcohol can inhibit and lessen the body’s ability to absorb folate. It can also increase the possibility of excreting folate through the urine.
How is Folate Deficiency Diagnosed?
This condition is usually diagnosed by conducting certain blood tests. The patient’s healthcare partner will usually require Complete Blood Count or CBC and ask for the patient’s symptoms. Those patients with folate deficiency will usually have red blood cells that will look immature and large.
What are the Symptoms of Folate Deficiency?
Someone with anemia or folate deficiency may experience the following symptoms:
- Ringing in the ears
- weight loss
- weak appetite or the feeling of not being hungry
- racing heartbeat
- Skin that is pale
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased levels of energy
- Feeling fatigued
However, individuals that specifically have it may experience the following additional symptoms:
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- A weakness of the muscles
- the feeling of pins and needles or the sensation of numbness at the hands and feet of the individual
- A weakened sense of taste
How Do We Treat Folate Deficiency?
It is usually treated by eating the right types of foods and by observing the proper diet. This means that an individual with folate deficiency may be required by their health partner to take in specific food items such as green leafy vegetables, different kinds of nuts, cereals, fruit, and enriched bread. The patient’s medical professional may also prescribe certain types of folate supplementation. Once folate levels are back to normal, the doctor may ask the patient to stop taking the aforementioned supplements. Some patients though may need to take folate supplementation for the rest of their lives as a form of drug maintenance.
What are the Complications of Folate Deficiency?
Most patients with folate deficiency are easily treated and do not experience any severe complications. However, those patients who have been subjected to prolonged bouts of folate deficiency may be more susceptible to some forms of cancer and various cardiovascular or heart diseases. Women with prolonged anemia may also find it difficult or hard to bear children or get pregnant. The likelihood of getting pregnant or the fertility levels of patients will come back to normal once folate levels are back to normal.
Pregnant women who do not get enough folate during their pregnancy are at risk of experiencing placental abruption. Placental abruption happens when the placenta is separated from the uterus and hampers the flow of blood to the fetus. It can result in extreme pain increase the incidence of bleeding leading to the death of the unborn child or fetus. The fetus can also be adversely affected by low levels of folate. The infant once born, may be below the average birth weight or have a prematurely born even before his or her due date. The infant may also have health issues with his or her spine called spina bifida, a medical condition that can seriously damage the nerves and the spinal cord itself.
When Should Someone with Folate Deficiency Call a Medical Partner or Doctor?
Patients should immediately seek medical attention if and when they notice any of the aforementioned symptoms. As mentioned earlier, while the complications of folate deficiency are rare usually treatable, prolonged exposure to low levels of folate may lead to serious health conditions. If not immediately addressed, a folate deficiency may cause some irreversible health conditions and adversely affect the person’s quality of life.
Pregnant women should especially be careful when they are diagnosed with possible folate deficiency as there may be serious and dire health consequences not just for the pregnant mother but for the unborn child or fetus itself. As such, pregnant women should collaborate with their healthcare provider for any folate deficiency concerns. Patients who require maintenance of folate supplements should also regularly see their doctor for monitoring and further medical recommendations.