What Causes Folate Deficiency, Its Complications & What Can Be Done About It?

Folate is an extremely vital vitamin that is required by the body to carry out various functions. Folate is present in many food products like fresh fruits, leafy vegetables, and liver. It has been made mandatory to add folate to the grains in the United States due to the benefits it has. This is especially recommended for pregnant females to prevent congenital abnormalities like neural tube defect as folate is an absolute must for the development of various enzymes required for metabolic functions. Inadequate dietary intake is believed to the primary cause of depleted folate levels in many cases[1].

Additionally, folate gets destroyed while cooking so that is yet another reason why intake of folate gets affected. Folate is absorbed in the digestive tract in the jejunum. Thus any condition which affects the working of the jejunum or the intestinal wall can also impair adequate absorption of folate. This article highlights some of the potential causes of folate deficiency and the complications that arise from it[1].

What Causes Folate Deficiency and What Are Its Complications?

An individual is said to have folate deficiency if there is not enough folate in the diet that he or she consumes. This however does not mean that people who eat a healthy and balanced diet do not get folate deficiency. There are other causes as well which may lead to folate deficiency and include medical conditions that inhibit adequate absorption of vitamins like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease[2].

People who abuse alcohol also are at risk for folate deficiency as alcohol prevents adequate absorption of folate from the diet. In fact, alcohol leads to elimination of folate from the body without it being properly absorbed. Pregnancy is yet another cause for folate deficiency. This is because pregnancy increases the demand for folate in the body[2].

There are also certain medications which interfere with folate absorption and cause folate deficiency. Certain genetic disorders like a defective MTHFR gene affects the body’s ability to use folate the way it should leading to folate deficiency. Since folate is soluble in water, the body is not able to store it and excess of this vitamin gets filtered out by the kidneys and eliminated from the body[2].

Thus if there is not enough folate intake then an individual will become folate deficient within a matter of a few weeks. Thus it is recommended that everyone take their recommended amount of folate everyday especially if the individual is pregnant or has gastrointestinal conditions[2].

The Center for Disease Control recommends that every female of reproducing age should take folate supplements every day and increase folate in the diet to prevent folate deficiency. This is because in case they become pregnant and are folate deficient then the child may end up having serious congenital abnormalities affecting the brain and the spinal cord[2].

There are also some serious complications that may occur as a result of folate deficiency. People with this condition may end up having megaloblastic anemia which may affect the amount of oxygen that reaches the vital organs of the body causing organ damage[2].

What Can Be Done About Folate Deficiency?

Folate deficiency can be avoided or treated with adequate intake of folate supplements. The treating physician may prescribe medications or even injections in some cases depending on the severity of the deficiency to bring the folate levels back to normal. Females who have anemia resulting out of folate deficiency will need to consult with their physician before attempting to get pregnant as the physician may advise to forego the idea until the folate levels are back to normal[2].

Additionally, before starting any supplements it is best to consult the physician. This is because excess of folate is also not advised since it can mask any other vitamin deficiency like vitamin B12[2].

In conclusion, folate is an extremely important vitamin for the body since it is required for various metabolic processes. Folate is found in abundance in green leafy vegetables and fresh fruits. Folate deficiency is mainly seen in females especially when they are pregnant when the demand for this vitamin is at its peak. This is the reason why many health organizations recommend folate supplementation for all females of reproducing age[1, 2].

Gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease all can inhibit folate absorption causing folate deficiency. Additionally, since folate is water soluble it cannot be stored in the body and any excess of it is eliminated by the body through the kidneys 1, 2].

Thus, it is recommended to eat a healthy balanced diet, identify and treat medical conditions involving the digestive tract, and consult with a physician if an individual is folate deficient and plans to start a family. The physician will then prescribe what is best for the patient in terms of folate supplementation and prevent any complications that can arise due to folate deficiency[1, 2].

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