Folic acid is necessary for the healthy development of our cells, a healthy brain and protection from cell damage that may lead to future cancers. Folic acid aids drugs used to treat depression and may even hold great promise for the growing autism epidemic that faces the world today.
Research has shown that folic acid has a role in the prevention of colon cancer. Patients with the inflammatory bowel condition ulcerative colitis are particularly at risk for colon cancer, and folic acid plays an even greater role of protection for this group. Cervical cancer prevention can also substantially benefit from folic acid supplementation. This vitamin can also prevent esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancer. The form of folic acid found in food, folate, is widely available in many fruits and vegetables. Folic acid is also added to many grains and cereals to further prevent deficiency. It’s easy to see the correlation between high fruit and vegetable intake, folic acid levels and the beneficial level of cancer protection.
The brain is another recipient of folic acid’s great benefits. Low levels of folic acid has been linked to higher homocysteine levels. A high level of homocysteine in the blood (hyperhomocysteinemia) makes a person more prone to endothelial cell injury, which leads to inflammation in the blood vessels, which in turn may lead to atherogenesis, which can result in ischemic injury. High levels of homocysteine are associated with stroke, osteoporosis, blood vessel disease, cervical cancer and even macular degeneration [Source: Weinstein]. Folic acid has also been found to improve the efficacy of the antidepressant drugs, and has proven beneficial in cases of major depression and schizophrenia. Many autistic researchers are studying problems related to oxidative stress and defects in the methylation pathway. Folic acid is involved in this pathway, which plays a role in detoxification. Problems in this pathway seem to occur frequently in autistic patients [Source: Weber, Frye].
Unfortunately, many medications decrease the level of folic acid in the body. The list includes methotrexate, phenytoin, trimethoprim and birth control [Source: Frye]. Even tobacco and alcohol reduce folic acid levels. This means that women who smoke prior to trying to become pregnant may need to take 800 mcg or more of folic acid for protection against neural tube defects. It also means that even women taking birth control to protect against pregnancy should consider taking folic acid since the levels may drop.
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