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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Folate deficiency

Deficiency - folic acid, Folic acid deficiency

Last reviewed: September 20, 2013.

Folate deficiency means you have a lower than normal amount of folic acid, a type of B vitamin, in your blood.

Causes

Folic acid works with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and make new proteins. The vitamin helps form red blood cells. It also helps produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information.

Folic acid is water-soluble type of B vitamin. This means it is not stored in the fat tissues of the body. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine.

Because folate is not stored in the body in large amounts, your blood levels will get low after only a few weeks of eating a diet low in folate. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables and liver.

Causes of folate deficiency are:

Symptoms

Folic acid deficiency may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Gray hair
  • Mouth sores (ulcers)
  • Poor growth
  • Swollen tongue

Exams and Tests

Folate deficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test. Pregnant women commonly have this blood test at prenatal checkups.

Possible Complications

Complications include:

In folate-deficiency anemia, the red blood cells are abnormally large (megaloblastic).

Pregnant women need to get enough folic acid. The vitamin is important to the growth of the fetus’ spinal cord and brain. Folic acid deficiency can cause severe birth defects known as neural tube defects.

Prevention

The best way to get vitamins your body needs is to eat a balanced diet. Most people in the United States eat enough folic acid because it is plentiful in the food supply.

Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Poultry, pork, and shellfish
  • Wheat bran and other whole grains

The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 400 micrograms of folate daily. Women who could become pregnant should take folic acid supplements to ensure that they get enough each day.

Specific recommendations depend on a person's age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Many foods now have extra folic acid added to help prevent birth defects.

References

  1. Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 167.
  2. Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 37.

Review Date: 9/20/2013.

Reviewed by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Effects and safety of preventive oral iron or iron + folic acid supplementation for women during pregnancyEffects and safety of preventive oral iron or iron + folic acid supplementation for women during pregnancy
    During pregnancy, women need iron and folate to meet both their own needs and those of the developing baby. The concern is that if pregnant women become deficient in these nutrients they are unable to supply them in sufficient quantities to their baby. Low folate before conceiving increases the risk of the baby having neural tube defects. Low iron and folate levels in women can cause anaemia, which can make women tired, faint, and at increased risk of infection.
See all (19) ...

Figures

  • First trimester of pregnancy.
    Folic acid.
    Early weeks of pregnancy.

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