Folate is a B vitamin and is otherwise known as Pteroyl Glutamic Acid, or PGA. It is an important coenzyme, necessary for DNA production and new cell creation and is known to be particularly important for the prevention of neural tube defects in infants, causing conditions such as Spina Bifida. Deficiency of folate also leads to a type of anaemia, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and heart palpitations.
Folate is found in cereals, cereal products and dishes based on cereals (about 27%) and vegetables and legumes (about 29%). Fruit provides about 8-10% (NHMRC). There is some question about how absorbable folate is when consumed from certain foods including those containing yeast.Folate is found in cereals, cereal products and dishes based on cereals (about 27%) and vegetables and legumes (about 29%). Fruit provides about 8-10% (NHMRC). There is some question about how absorbable folate is when consumed from certain foods including those containing yeast.
Uptake by the body is dependent on a number of factors including the impact of medications, smoking, interactions with other food nutrients, pregnancy, alcohol and some diseases. A National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2011-2013, found that fortunately on a population level, most people had good levels of folate in their body and were consuming good amounts from foods. This is in part due to the fortification, or addition of folate by the food industry to wheat flour and bread. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends 400ug per day for people over the age of 14yrs. People who are on a gluten free diet or who consume organic bread may have lower folic acid intakes due to the fact that gluten free bread is not required to be fortified.
When folic acid is consumed it needs to be modified by the body before it can be used. The body removes glutamates and the new form is known as tetrahydrofolate. A small number of people, have a genetic variation such as the C667T polymorphism and it is thought that people with this variation may have higher folate requirements. This genetic defect prevents MTHFR or Methylene TetraHydroFolate Reductase enzyme from converting the PGA form of folate into the tetrahydrofolate form that the body needs to be able to use it. People with this genetic mutation appear to be at higher risk of a number of gastric cancers and a number of other chronic diseases.
Whilst it is important to prevent folate deficiency, there is some question about whether too much Folic Acid or PGA eg in excess of 1000ug per day may actually accentuate cell growth in people who have precancerous cells. It may also lead to immune system problems.
It is important to note that if you think you may have a genetic variation or deficiency, it is important to seek medical and nutritional advice rather than trying to supplement yourself.
Susanna C. et al. Gastroenterology , Volume 131 , Issue 4 , 1271 – 1283 Folate Intake, MTHFR Polymorphisms, and Risk of Esophageal, Gastric, and Pancreatic Cancer: A Meta-analysis Larsson
Education in Nutrition webinar – Professor Lynn Riddell.
Shepherd SJ1, Gibson PR. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013 Aug;26(4):349-58. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12018. Epub 2012 Nov 30. Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently-diagnosed and long-term patients with coeliac disease.
- Jenny Trezise