The body is made up of complex organ systems. Everything that you put inside it is being processed, absorbed, and sometimes excreted. Food is the fuel of the body. Food gives vitamins and minerals needed to function well. The body can also make some of its own vitamins and minerals when needed.
But, these essential vitamins have to undergo specific conversions to be usable. Let us look at folic acid, for example.
Folic acid is the metabolically inactive form of folate or vitamin B9. Humans are dependent on dietary sources for their folate supply. Pharmaceutically manufactured folic acid supplements are also a great source of this vitamin. Fortified food like bread and cereal are also good sources.
Folic acid plays an important role in proper brain functioning. It aids in the production of the genetic material (DNA and RNA) and also supports the growth and development of cells and tissues in the body. On top of that, folic acid also helps in making red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body.
Dozens of studies have also shown that folic acid aids in mental health. Its active form helps in the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – the happy hormone.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women need higher levels of folic acid in their system. Folate is crucial in fetal development. It prevents the baby from having birth defects like neural tube defect, cleft palate, and spina bifida. Taking folic acid supplements before conception also lowers the risk of miscarriages and preterm birth.
Varieties of folate-rich food are as follows: green leafy vegetables, seafood, liver, peanuts, legumes and whole grain.
But, folic acid is an inactive form of folate. An enzyme needs to convert it first to its active form so that our body can absorb it. That enzyme is called the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase or MTHFR. The MTHFR converts folic acid into L-methylfolate. L-methylfolate is the active form of folate. It can now be absorbed by the body, bringing it into the blood circulation. The blood will then transport it to the organs that need it.
The MTHFR enzyme is not only important in the folate cycle, it is also crucial in several methylation cycles in the body. Methylation processes are important in the regeneration and regulation of cells in the body.
Folate deficiency can be caused by alcoholism, malnutrition, and genetic variation.
Some people have genetic conditions wherein they lack or are deficient in the MTHFR enzyme. Thus, these people will not be able to convert folic acid into its usable form. Doctors will prescribe them an alternative dietary supplement called methylfolate or active folate to provide their folate needs.
Healthy people can take folic acid as long as they have the MTHFR enzyme in their bodies.
Discussion of health conditions with your health care provider is important to address several health issues. It is crucial to consider everything when it comes to your health.