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Issue 40: B Vitamins--Not Just for Beer Anymore

B vitamins serve as essential helpers in the conversion of food to energy. And while they do not directly provide that energy, they do assist the process. B vitamins also help you withstand stress, and can support a healthy cardiovascular system as well as a healthy immune system. B vitamin deficiency, however, can result in fatigue and can also lead to anemia. Vitamin B Complex includes eight water-soluble vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folate, cobalamin and biotin.

Here is a peek at one of these important vitamins--folate—which also commonly goes by the names folacin, folic acid, folinic acid, pteroylglutamic acid, pteroylmonoglutamic acid, pteroylpolyglutamate, vitamin B9, and vitamin M. For our purposes, however, we will just call it folate. Occurring naturally in food, folate is a water-soluble B vitamin. Its synthetic form, however, is called folic acid.

And while it may go by many names, did you know that the discovery of folate played a role in the way vitamins are viewed? It’s true and here are some reasons why. In the late 1930s, a researcher named Lucy Wills identified folate as the nutrient that was needed to prevent pregnancy-related anemia. In fact, Dr. Wills showed that pregnancy anemia responded favorably to a yeast extract and that folate was identified as the nutrient in the yeast extract. Folate began to be extracted from spinach leaves in 1941.

Then there was the discovery that too little folate was linked to neural tube defects—which result in malformations of the spine (spina bifida), skull, and brain (anencephaly). This was significant and helped put this B vitamin on the proverbial map because as early as fifty years ago, no one was sure what caused these birth defects.

A little over thirty years ago, British researchers found that mothers of children with spina bifida had low vitamin levels. As a result of their findings, two large trials commenced which randomly assigned women to take folic acid or a placebo. The results were that getting too little folate increased the chances of a woman delivering an infant with spina bifida or anencephaly and that getting enough folate could prevent these birth defects.

Additionally, folate assists in producing and maintaining new cells—which is especially significant when rapid cell division and growth is high, such as during pregnancy and infancy. In fact, folate is necessary for making DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. And speaking of cells, folate is necessary to make normal red blood cells, which can help to prevent anemia. But that’s not all that this amazing B vitamin does. It is also required in the metabolism of and the maintenance of normal levels of homocysteine

It’s not always easy to get enough folate from food, but here are some good food sources of folate:  leafy green vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), fruits (such as citrus fruits and their juices), dried beans and peas.

Here are more examples: Note that the Daily Value (DV) are numbers developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for folate is 400 micrograms (ug).

  • 3 ounces of beef liver, cooked and braised will glean 185 micrograms (ug) of folate—45% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature, cooked, boiled, ½ cup will glean 105 micrograms (ug) of folate—25% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled, ½ cup will glean 100 micrograms (ug) of folate—25% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Great Northern beans, boiled, ½ cup will glean 90 micrograms (ug) of folate—20% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears will glean 85 micrograms (ug) of folate—20% of the Daily Value (DV)

This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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