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What are Folate Supplements?

Folate is a natural occurring water-soluble B vitamin that is found in foods such as spinach and broccoli. A synthetic form of folate is called folic acid, which is both made into folate supplements and added to fortified foods such as cereals and pasta. Folate is necessary for creating both DNA and RNA, and the body uses both forms during the production and maintenance of new cells.

Adults and children need folate to make red blood cells and prevent anemia. Taking B vitamins is one way to make sure the body’s folate levels are adequate. Pregnant women or women who may become pregnant will find that most prenatal vitamins contain folate supplements necessary to help prevent miscarriage and certain birth defects. Taking folate supplements while trying to conceive and taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy helps increase the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy. Continuing vitamin supplements while breastfeeding is also beneficial to both mother and infant.

The signs of folate deficiency can be subtle and often mimic symptoms of other common ailments. Digestive disorders such as diarrhea, weight loss and loss of appetite may be present. Headaches and irritability may also occur.

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In children, the growth process may be slow, while in adults a particular type of anemia may develop over a long period of folate deficiency. An elevated level of homocysteine in the blood is also a sign of folate deficiency and can be lowered with folate supplements. Certain medical conditions such as kidney disease requiring dialysis, liver disease and alcohol abuse can also lower folate levels in the body and require folate supplementation to improve health.

Folate supplementation at the recommended dose of 400 micrograms (mcg) is most likely safe for everyone and doesn’t usually incur side effects. Higher doses may cause abdominal cramps, gas and stomach upset, as well as diarrhea, rash, sleep disorders, irritability, confusion and, in severe cases, seizures and heart attacks in those with a pre-existing condition. These instances are rare, because it is water-soluble and most excess is lost in urine output.

Never take more than 400 mcg a day unless your physician recommends it, and do your part to prevent negative drug interactions by making sure to inform him if you are taking any other medications. The ingestion of green tea may hamper the absorption of folic acid, so also tell your doctor if you drink this beverage. Those who are diagnosed with a folate deficiency may be advised to take up to 1,000 mcg of folate supplements daily, or as little as 250 mcg.

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