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Folates are an important part of our daily dietary requirements and its deficiency can be easily overlooked. To avoid this health issue and its consequences, take a look at the importance of this nutrient and how to make sure you are getting enough of it.

In order to keep our body in perfect conditions so that it endures everyday stress, we need to provide it with substances that are mainly obtained from the diet and that are key factors in several vital functions. Some of these substances are even a fundamental part of human development, participating in the formation of a human being, from the womb to adulthood. This is the case of folates, also referred to as folic acid.

Get some spinach, liver and folates!

Folates, a group of water-soluble B vitamins, are present mainly in legumes, leafy green vegetables, some fruits like oranges and liver. Yes, even when you didn't like it, your mom had a very good reason to give you liver for dinner, since it is a great source of not only folates but also iron.

If eating liver is really not your thing, you can also get the amount of folates that you need from avocado, spinach, kale, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, beans and peas, seafood, and some grains.

Why is it so important to include good sources of folate in your diet? Folate, and other vitamins can´t be synthesized by our cells, which is the reason why they need to get them from an external dietary source.

When we ingest foods rich in folates, these vitamins are absorbed in the small intestine and then, they are chemically modified by enzymes in order for our cells to be able to use them for certain functions.

Without these chemical modifications, even if we stuffed ourselves with spinach and Brussel sprouts, our cells would not be capable of using the folates present in the food we ate.

The function of folates in our cells

The main cell function in which folates participate is the synthesis of nucleotides. Nucleotides are like the building blocks that construct our DNA, which basically constitutes the only form in which our genetic information is stored and guarded. Folates also have an important role in the modification of DNA and the genetic expression. 

In other words, folates are needed to control which genes are expressed under a certain situation and which genes are switched off.

Nucleotide synthesis is necessary especially during cell replication and when the DNA needs to be repaired and nucleotides have to be replaced because of an unwanted chemical modification caused by, for example, UV rays.

Cell replication occurs in almost all our cells, but it varies depending on the tissue and in the developmental stage in which we are. 
For example, skin cells have to be replaced constantly, because they are exposed all the time to the environment, whereas bone cells proliferation rate is really high during childhood, while we grow and develop, but it slows down and eventually stops when we reach adulthood. This tells us then that our requirements of folic acid vary a lot, which is why in certain conditions, such as pregnancy, it is such an important dietary constituent and special care has to be taken to make sure that the person is getting the proper amount of folic acid. 
Continue reading after recommendations

  • CZEIZEL, A. E., DUDAS, I., VERECZKEY, A. & BANHIDY, F. 2013. Folate deficiency and folic acid supplementation: the prevention of neural-tube defects and congenital heart defects. Nutrients, 5, 4760-75
  • MANTOVANI, E., FILIPPINI, F., BORTOLUS, R. & FRANCHI, M. 2014. Folic acid supplementation and preterm birth: results from observational studies. Biomed Res Int, 2014, 481914
  • NAZKI, F. H., SAMEER, A. S. & GANAIE, B. A. 2014. Folate: metabolism, genes, polymorphisms and the associated diseases. Gene, 533, 11-20
  • REYNOLDS, E. H. 2002. Benefits and risks of folic acid to the nervous system. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 72, 567-71.Photo courtesy of Woodleywonderworks by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4633459332
  • Photo courtesy of FixersUK by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersuk/10709402033

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