Folic Acid Deficiency

When you have folic acid deficiency, you can become anemic. Folic acid is a form of vitamin B that assists your body in making new red blood cells. The red blood cells in the body help carry oxygen to the cells and tissues. Without enough red blood cells, you may feel more tired and weaker than usual.

For the most part, we should be getting enough folic acid from our diet. There are some instances where we are not getting enough folic acid or cannot absorb it from what we eat. It is especially important for women who are planning a pregnancy to be getting enough folic acid even before conceiving. This is because folic acid helps form the nervous system, brainstem and spinal cord in the baby.  

This condition is also known as folate deficiency. If you think you are not getting enough folic acid in your diet, see your doctor to see if you might need a supplement.

What Causes Folic Acid Deficiency?

  • Poor dietary intake. If you do not get enough foods in your diet that contain folic acid like green leafy vegetables, cereals fortified with folic acid and citrus fruit.
  • Medications. Certain medications can deplete your folic acid such as seizure medications, antibiotics, cancer drugs, and arthritis drugs.
  • Pregnancy and growing kids. Women who are expecting a baby, growing kids and teens all have an increased need for folic acid.
  • Certain diseases. There are some health conditions that reduce the absorption of folic acid including kidney disease, alcoholism, people on dialysis, gluten intolerance, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Hemolytic Anemia. If you have hemolytic anemia, your body destroys the red blood cells in your body and you use folic acid stores too quickly.

How Much Folic Acid Is Required?

Age

Folate (RDA)

0-6 Months

65 mcg per day

7-12 Months

90 mcg per day

1-3 Years

150 mcg per day

4-8 Years

200 mcg per day

9-13 Years

300 mcg per day

14 and up

400 mcg per day

Pregnant

600 mcg per day

Breastfeeding

500 mcg per day

How Do You Know If You Have Folic Acid Deficiency?

The symptoms of a folic acid deficiency are essentially the same as anemia and include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness/Lightheaded
  • Memory Loss/Forgetful
  • Irritable
  • Weight Loss
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Poor Concentration
  • Hair Graying
  • Swollen Tongue
  • Sores in Mouth
  • Pale Skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Leg Pain
  • Indigestion
  • Reduced Taste

How Is Folic Acid Deficiency Diagnosed?

If you have any of the above symptoms, you need to contact your doctor for an appointment. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history and your diet. You may have to get some blood testing done to check for anemia and folic acid levels. At this time, the doctor may run a vitamin B12 level. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause similar symptoms.

How to Treat Folic Acid Deficiency

If you are diagnosed with folic acid deficiency and anemia, the doctor will begin treatment right away. You will need to take prescription folic acid pills daily until your folic acid levels recover to normal. If you are anemic, the doctor may also treat you with iron.

You will need to make sure that you eat enough foods that are high in folic acid. Some of these foods include:

  • Bread and Cereal Fortified with Folic Acid
  • Citrus Fruits (Oranges, Grapefruit, Tangerines)
  • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (Broccoli, Spinach, Collard Greens)
  • Dried Beans and Peas (Lentils, Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans)
  • Rice

It is always a good idea to buy a good quality multi-vitamin that contains folic acid and take this daily after treatment is complete. This will help prevent the deficiency from coming back.

The Importance of Folic Acid Before and During Pregnancy

Folic acid is the one nutrient that helps a growing baby’s spinal cord, neural tube and nervous system form. This happens very early in pregnancy, so women trying to conceive need to make sure they are getting enough folic acid. Folic acid deficiency in pregnancy may cause birth defects before a woman even suspects she might be pregnant.

Some of the neural tube defects that can occur include spinal bifida, tethered spinal cord, and other neurological defects. In some cases, it can even cause miscarriage or death shortly after birth if these areas do not form at all. In cases of spinal bifida, the bottom of the spinal cord does not completely close up. Surgery may be required to close up the opening. Kids with this condition can suffer permanent disability with effects such as altered bowel and bladder function, confined to a wheelchair, frequent bouts of meningitis, altered sensations to the legs, and other nervous system issues.

This is why it is very important for women trying to conceive or not using birth control to make sure they are getting enough folic acid, not only in the diet but in a daily multi-vitamin. Folic acid needs to be taken every single day in order to be effective. If you do find out that you are having a baby and have not been taking folic acid, you need to ask your healthcare provider about how to get enough folic acid.

Foods High in Folic Acid: