Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B-9, is part of the B-complex of vitamins and plays many different roles in your body. Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that helps synthesize DNA and aids in normal growth of cells, especially in infants and children. A deficiency in folic acid in infants and toddlers can cause serious side effects. Consult your physician if you believe your child may be deficient in folic acid to receive the proper medical treatment.
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Low Birth Weight
Women who have a folic acid deficiency while pregnant are more likely to have premature birth, give birth to a child with an abnormally low birth weight, or have a child with neural tube deficiencies, according to the United States Office of Dietary Supplements. Women who consume foods fortified with folic acid or take a folic acid supplement during pregnancy can decrease the risk of having a child with serious birth defects. The recommended daily intake for pregnant women to prevent a folic acid deficiency is 400 micrograms.
Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia
Folic acid deficiency anemia most commonly occurs in infants and results in a decrease in red blood cell production. Folic acid is required in high amounts in infants because it helps stimulate DNA replication and cellular growth. Infants who have a folic acid deficiency may show signs of chronic fatigue, dyspnea, heart palpitations, weakness, glossitis, nausea, low body weight, headache, fainting, irritability, pallor and jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin.
Neural Tube Defects
Low folic acid intake during pregnancy and in the first stages of life can cause neural tube defects in infants. Neural tube defects are birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord, the most common being spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida occurs when the fetal spinal column does not close completely, causing nerve damage and lower-extremity paralysis. In anencephaly, much of the brain fails to develop, resulting in stillbirth or death shortly after birth.
Infants up to age 6 months require 65 mcg of folic acid per day, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, while infants 7 to 12 months old require about 80 mcg per day, and children 1 to 3 years old require 150 mcg per day. Green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit juices, legumes and fortified cereals are excellent sources of folate. The Food and Drug Administration requires grain manufacturers to add folate to refined grain products to prevent a folic acid deficiency in the population. High intakes of folic acid do not appear to be toxic or harmful to human health.
- "The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, and Herbs"; Nicola Reavley; 1999
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate
- MedlinePlus: Neural Tube Defects
- "Linus Pauling Institute"; Folic Acid; Jane Higdon; April 2002