[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
Folate deficiency can be caused by a variety of factors, including insufficient intake of the nutrient. The deficit causes damage if measures are not taken. Before that, it is essential to make a diagnosis to assess the origin of the problem and define possible treatments. How does folate deficiency manifest? I invite you to discover the symptoms, the means of prevention and the foods to favor.
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
Folates are derivatives of folic acid and vitamin B9. Many categorize them into one and the same nutrient. They contribute to the proper functioning of different mechanisms in the human body. Folate participates in the synthesis of new cells. They must be in sufficient quantity during the growth periods in children and adolescents. They ensure the development of the fetus during pregnancy. Vitamin B9 plays a role in the production of DNA and RNA, two essential carriers of genetic information.
It also participates in the synthesis of amino acids, essential during cellular development. A deficiency of the nutrient is therefore harmful to the body. For example, it increases the risk of premature birth. A folate deficiency hinders the production of red blood cells and the functioning of the immune system.
Food sources of folate
Folate is found in many foods, but the foods that contain it the most are:
- Beer yeast ;
- Calf, poultry and lamb livers;
- Dried nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds;
- Green leafy vegetables such as salad, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lamb’s lettuce, watercress;
- Goat cheese (be careful to avoid products not recommended for pregnant women if you are expecting a child);
- Eggs ;
- The melon ;
- Chickpeas ;
- Cereals labeled rich in vitamin B9.
The foods I will now present to you contain average levels of folate:
- The tomato ;
- The onion;
- Mint ;
- Red fruits;
- Citrus fruits;
- The carrot ;
- Green beans ;
- The corn ;
- Broccoli ;
- The FIG ;
- The banana ;
- The lawyer;
- Beet ;
- The leek ;
- The endives.
Recommended nutritional value
Refer to the folate nutritional intake recommended by health specialists to prevent deficiency:
- Baby from 0 to 6 months: 65 mcg
- Baby from 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg
- Baby from 1 to 3 years old: 150 mcg
- Child 4 to 8 years old: 200 mcg
- Child 9 to 13 years old: 300 mcg
- Adolescent from 14 years old: 400 mcg
- Pregnant woman: 600 mcg
- Breastfeeding woman: 500 mcg
When should you pay attention to your folate intake?
Here are common cases in which doctors recommend additional vitamin B9 intake:
- Depression: Depressed people often have lower folate levels than normal. Depression can also cause a nutrient deficiency. It is necessary to take a supplement to avoid making the problem worse.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Doctors may add methotrexate to treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The disadvantage is that the latter eliminates vitamin B9 in the body. It becomes essential to take a folate supplement in this situation.
- Autism: It is advisable to take a folate supplement during pregnancy to reduce the risk of the baby developing autism.
- Malformation of the neural tube: doctors recommend taking folic acid two months before pregnancy and one month after to avoid this problem. This also helps prevent cardiac irregularity or even a cleft palate of the fetus.
What is folate deficiency?
The symptoms of a lack of folate are manifested by several signs, the most common of which are:
- The drop in energy;
- The tiredness ;
- Shortness of breath;
- Gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain;
- Weight loss ;
- Muscle weakness;
- Psychological disorders such as depression, confusion, problems with judgment, memory and/or understanding;
- Neurological problems such as tingling, numbness in the extremities and burning sensation.
Here is a list of less common symptoms of folate deficiency:
- Tachycardia (accelerated heart rate);
- Tachypnea (acceleration of breathing);
- Mouth ulcers ;
- The painful tongue;
- Difficulty breathing normally;
- Painful swallowing;
- Exfoliative dermatitis;
- Angular stomatitis.
In the majority of cases, folate deficiency results from one of the following causes:
- A diet low in folate: A diet low in folate is one of the most common causes of deficiency. The victim does not consume enough foods rich or with an average content of vitamin B9. The elderly and alcoholics are most affected by the problem.
- An intestinal condition: celiac disease is an intestinal disorder that hinders the assimilation of folic acid;
- Pregnancy: folate requirements increase during pregnancy. Baby needs it for his growth. Pregnant women may experience this problem during the last phase of their pregnancy.
- Blood problems: thalassemia and sickle cell disease cause an increase in the production of red blood cells. It is important to take a folate supplement in this condition.
- Inflammatory disorders: Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease that reduces the level of folic acid in the body.
- Certain medications: medications to treat epilepsy such as sulfasalazine, colestyramine or methotrexate interfere with folates. It is advisable to take a folate supplement to remedy this.
How to diagnose and treat folate deficiency?
A blood test is one of the most reliable ways to determine folate levels. A deficiency is possible if the results show a nutrient content below 7 nmol/L. In this condition, the chances of developing megaloblastic anemia are high. Doctors will carry out an in-depth investigation into the origins of the deficiency if the blood test indicates anemia.
They may test the patient for serum folate levels. Folic acid deficiency can manifest as high homocysteine content. Symptom assessment is one way to identify the possibility of folate deficiency. The doctor may ask questions regarding the patient’s diet if the patient is following a slimming, vegan or poor diet.
Adopt a new diet
Folate deficiency is easy to treat, if symptoms have recently developed. In this condition, you just need to correct your diet. Above, I told you the best sources of vitamin B9. Favor them by integrating them into your dishes. Be careful, folates are fragile.
Avoid exposing them to heat and air for a long time to avoid deterioration. They are water soluble. This means that they dissolve in water. Prefer cooking in steam rather than in water. Eat fruits quickly after purchasing them to limit vitamin loss. Do not hesitate to consult a dietitian for help in establishing varied and balanced menus.
Take a folate supplement
It is advisable to consult a doctor before taking a folate supplement, especially a gastroenterologist. He is a specialist in disorders of the esophagus, small intestine and even stomach. A hematologist can help define the causes of folate deficiency. These health specialists will take the necessary steps to identify the origin of the problem. They are able to advise you on the folic acid intake you need. Most importantly, they define possible drug interactions and corresponding solutions.