Today, you're more likely to hear Vitamin B9 referred to as 'folic acid' in its man-made form. In its natural form, it is commonly called 'folate'. Whatever the name, Vitamin B9 is another water-soluble member of the family of vitamins known collectively as the B-Complex.
As with many other B vitamins, folic acid, or folate, breaks down during the cooking process so care must be taken during food preparation if you wish to get B9 from the food you eat. Also, since it is water soluble, the body can only retain relatively small quantities for a rather limited time.
Since it is constantly being lost during food preparation, and through natural elimination from the body, it is important to continually resupply folic acid to the body.
As with most other B-complex vitamins, Vitamin B9 has an important role in the body's ability to metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates so they can be converted into energy. Not just that, folic acid also benefits the body in many other ways.
Vitamin B9 is necessary for the formation and maintenance of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid), and other nucleic acids. Since DNA, and the nucleic acids, are created together with new cell growth, folic acid plays a critical role in the body's creation of red blood cells, and amino acids called homocysteine which help fight heart disease.
Folic acid also plays a part in the production of heme, the pigmented portion of red blood cells that carry iron to wherever in the body it is needed.
Folic acid also importan in the body's ability to repair damaged tissues. It plays a role in the development of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating sleep, moods and appetite. It also helps with the digestion process, and may help protect against the onset of cervical cancer.
It is also important that ample quantities of folic acid are provided to any woman planning to conceive. Its presence can help protect the developing fetus from such dangerous conditions as spina bifida. Four to six weeks after conception, the neural tube begins to form in the growing fetus. This tube ultimately becomes the spine, spinal cord, skull and brain. Closing the neural tube so amniotic fluid cannot seep in is the final step of the tube's development. Folic acid ensures that this closure occurs as it should. Failure to close the neural tube can result in birth defects including spina bifida or anencephaly, which is the absence of a large part of the brain and the skull.
Sources of Folic Acid
The natural form of Vitamin B9, known as folate is available from the foods you eat. A balanced diet can easily provide plenty of folate (Vitamin B9). Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and asparagus are wonderful sources of folic acid. Organ meats including liver and kidney also contain ample amounts of Vitamin B9. Nuts, beans and legumes, shellfish, poultry, pork, whole grains, citrus fruits, fruit juices and yeast are also good sources of this important nutrient.
Although excessive consumption of folic acid does not normally present a dangerous situation, care should be taken to keep consumption in moderation. Women and men in normal health should get 400 micrograms of Vitamin B9 daily. Pregnant women, especially during the early stages of pregnancy, and women attempting to conceive should increase their intake of Folic Acid to 600 micrograms/day.
Vitamin B9 Deficiency
An inadequate level of folic acid, or folate, is probably the most common of the known vitamin deficiencies. Especially at risk for this type of deficiency are pregnant women, the elderly, those who drink excessive quantities of alcohol, and women taking a birth control pill.
Depression, apathy, shortness of breath, dizziness, and anemia can all result from a Vitamin B9 deficiency. Problems with memory and impaired brain and nerve function can also result from a poor folic acid intake.