Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that can be used interchangeably with the terms folate and folic acid. It helps the body in converting carbohydrates into glucose, which is the so-called body fuel that is used in energy production.
The B-vitamins, often termed as B complex vitamins, aid the body in the use of protein and fats; and are needed for healthy eyes, liver, skin, and hair.
All B-vitamins help with the correct function of the nervous system. The synthetic form of vitamin B9 is folic acid; this is mostly found in fortified foods and supplements, and folate, the other term for vitamin B9 naturally occurs in foods. All B-complex vitamins are water-soluble, which means that the body does not store excessive amounts and will be eliminated through urine, sweat, and stools.
Vitamin B9, Folate and Folic Acid Roles
Folic acid plays a major role in emotional and mental health of an individual and is vital for proper brain functioning. It helps in the DNA and RNA production, which are primarily the body’s genetic materials. DNA and RNA are essential during the process wherein cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as pregnancy, infancy and adolescence.
Folate works in association with vitamin B12 to give aid in making red blood cells and for iron to properly work in the body. Vitamin B9 also works with vitamin B6 and B12, as well as in other nutrients in the body, in controlling the blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. High levels of homocysteine in the body can indicate that a person could have heart disease, as this is one of the probable causes of heart disease.
Vitamin B9 Deficiency
Low levels of vitamin B9 is fairly common. Celiac diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, and alcoholism can all cause vitamin B9 deficiency. There are also certain medications that can lower the levels of vitamin B9 in the body.
Vitamin B9 deficit can lead to gingivitis, forgetfulness, tongue inflammation, mental sluggishness, poor growth, loss of appetite, irritability, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. Neural tube birth defects—such as brain damage, spina bifida, and cleft palate – can also occur as a result of having low folic acid level in pregnant women. Neural tube defects are birth defects caused by having an abnormal development on the structure that eventually gives rise to the spinal cord and brain, called as neural tube. This birth defect had decreased dramatically over the past years due to the fact that folic acid has been added to cereal, bread and other grain foods in the United States.
Folate is vital for the blood cells’ production in the bone marrow. This means that vitamin B9 deficiency is one of the major causes of red blood cell (RBC) deficiency or anemia. Red blood cells are responsible in transporting oxygen to tissues in the body; anemia can result to serious deprivation of oxygen. Vitamin B9 deficiency can also give rise to neutropenia and thrombocytopenia, leading to increased risk of infection, bleeding and bruising. A good way of avoiding deficiency is to eat folic acid rich foods.
Vitamin B9 Deficiency References and Further Reading
Linus Pauling; St. Edward’s University; Arizona Telemedicine Program; University of Maryland Medical Center.