What reasons and diseases cause a drop in folic acid levels ? And what consequences does the deficiency of this vitamin have? Guadalupe Blay Cortés, head of the Endocrinology and Nutrition Group of the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG) , brings us out of doubt, also offering nutritional recommendations to increase these levels.
Possible causes of low levels
“Because folate is not stored in the body in large quantities, the blood level will drop after a few weeks of eating a low-folate diet, ” says Blay.
Likewise, the SEMG specialist says that there are other causes:
- Inadequate dietary intake of folic acid due to: limited consumption of fresh or minimally cooked food, chronic alcoholism, or the long-term need for intravenous nutrition (total parenteral nutrition).
- Inadequate absorption of folic acid due to: malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease, or drug interactions, such as anticonvulsant drugs and oral contraceptives .
- Increased need for folic acid due to: pregnancy , l actantial ,childhood or malignancy (e.g. , cancer ).
- Increased loss by hemodialysis.
- Poor use of certain medications (for example, methotrexate, which is administered in cancer patients).
- Eating overcooked vegetables as folate can be easily destroyed.
- Kidney dialysis.
Consequences of having low folic acid
This vitamin plays a role in the accumulation of proteins in the body, including blood cells. Blay mentions the consequences of low folic acid levels below:
- Fatigue or irritability.
- Anemia (low red blood cell count).
- Low levels of white blood cells and platelets (in severe cases).
- Pale skin (paleness).
- Red, irritated tongue, sometimes shiny.
- Shortness of breath and dizziness.
- Change in evacuation patterns ( diarrhea, generally).
- High level of homocysteine in the blood (a risk factor for heart disease).
- Also, folic acid deficiency can cause serious birth defects known as neural tube defects.
What to eat to raise the levels?
“The green leafy vegetables such as arugula, spinach, endive, lettuce, watercress, cabbage or spinach, are some of the folic acid foods. So is parsley ”, says the head of the EEM Group and Nutrition of the SEMG.
Folic acid is also present in other vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, leek or artichoke. Other vegetables and greens like celery, tomatoes, carrots, or squash are also important sources of folic acid. Blay advises steaming them.
Beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and peas are some of the legumes that provide folic acid .
Among the fresh fruits, avocado, orange, banana and melon stand out. Citrus fruits like kiwis, papayas, strawberries or raspberries are also an exquisite source of folic acid.
Avocado is a fruit with many beneficial properties. It contains fatty acids, vitamin K, fiber and also a great contribution of folic acid.
Nuts such as almonds, chestnuts, and peanuts; and seeds, such as flax, sesame or sunflower seeds, also represent an excellent source of folic acid.
The whole grains are more refined folic acid. Inflated wheat flakes stand out, but also rye.
Other sources are:
Chicken liver, turkey or beef , food also very rich in vitamin A .
Seafood and fish , especially blue, perfect also to combat anemia that some women suffer during pregnancy.
Dairy , which will also help maintain correct calcium levels.
At what stages of life are adequate levels necessary?
In the preconception stage and lactation it is important to have adequate levels of folic acid.
In addition, Blay highlights that ” a diet rich in folic acid in childhood alters the genetic markers of obesity , leading to a reduction in the risk of obesity in adulthood .”
How to detect a low level of folic acid?
Folic acid can be measured in both the liquid portion of the blood (serum) and the red blood cells. This last test may be better than the serum test to measure the amount of folic acid stored in the body.
“The amount of folic acid in red blood cells measures the level present when the blood cell originated up to four months ago. This level is not usually affected by the amount of folic acid in your diet on a given day, but the result indicates the usual amount in your diet over several months. It is a more accurate way of measuring the body’s folic acid level,