Folic acid (vitamin B9)
We are a leading producer of folic acid – otherwise known as vitamin B9.
Folic acid is a synthetic folate compound used in vitamin supplements and fortified food because of its increased stability.
Folates are found in a wide variety of foods. The richest sources are liver, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, wheat germ and yeast. Other sources include egg yolk, milk and dairy products, beets, orange juice and whole wheat bread.
It’s important that we have a sufficient intake of vitamin B9 - in folate form (in foods) and folic acid (in supplements), because it helps the body as a coenzyme to:
- Use amino acids, the building blocks of proteins
- Produce nucleic acids (like DNA), the body's genetic material
- Form blood cells in the bone marrow
- Ensure rapid cell growth in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy
- Control (together with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12) blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, associated with certain chronic conditions like heart disease.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which provides scientific advice to policy makers, has confirmed that clear health benefits have been established for the dietary intake of folate (vitamin B9) in contributing to:
- Normal blood formation
- Normal homocysteine
- A normal metabolism of the immune system
- Normal cell division
- Normal maternal tissue growth during pregnancy
- Normal amino acid synthesis
- Normal psychological functions
- The reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Folate deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. It can result from inadequate intake, defective absorption, abnormal metabolism or increased requirements.
Early symptoms of folate deficiency are non-specific and can include tiredness, irritability and loss of appetite. Severe folate deficiency leads to megaloblastic anemia – where the bone marrow produces oversized, immature red blood cells.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women are at a higher risk of vitamin B9 deficiency which can result in devastating and sometimes fatal birth defects (like neural tube defects).
They therefore need to take more folate/folic acid because of the rapid tissue growth during pregnancy (along with losses through the milk during breast-feeding).
Supplements and food fortification
Folic acid is available as an oral preparation - both alone or in combination with other vitamins or minerals (iron); and as an aqueous solution for injection. Folic acid is added to a variety of foods, the main ones being flour, salt, breakfast cereals and beverages, soft drinks and baby foods.