Folate is a water-soluble vitamin (not stored in the body) and primary food sources include: Fortified, refined grain products (cereals, bread, and pasta), dark green vegetables like collards and romaine, dried beans.
Folate plays key roles during pregnancy in the synthesis of proteins needed for the normal development of fetal tissues including the spinal cord and brain. It also promotes the normal formation of red blood cells. Folate is the form found in foods whereas folic acid is used in vitamin supplements and fortified foods.
The consequences of a deficiency include megaloblastic anemia (abnormally large red blood cells with reduced oxygen capability,) increased rise of neural tube defects, preterm delivery, and elevated levels of homocysteine (associated with heart and brain health). It may mask signs of vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia).
Until the late 1990’s, neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly affected approximately 3900 pregnancies in the U. S. each year.Today, public health policies mandate the fortification of certain food with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, preventing birth defects in thousands of babies.
Research had previously shown that high doses of folate (folic acid) was associated with certain types of cancer.
“The success of the fortification of folic acid program can be seen in the decline in the estimated number of neural tube affected pregnancies that has occurred since the fortification of grains and grain products. In 1994, there were 1.6 cases per 1000 births; in 2001, about 0.9 cases per 1000. Americans were consuming more folate, in the form of folic acid, through food and supplements, causing concern among scientists about possible increased cancer rates, especially for colorectal cancer.” However, is folate safe? Current research says “yes”. Read on: