What the Folic Acid?


By Christina Cui | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2014-15)

 

Sprouting gray hair before you’re even out of college? Awkward tongue swelling making talking embarrassing? Cold sores mandating a high intake of ice cream everyday? What the folic acid is going on? That’s right, your body may be begging you for some of that folic acid. (OR That’s right, you may be lacking in folic acid. OR It could be just that — a deficiency in folic acid.)

Folic acid is a form of vitamin B — B9, to be specific. Found primarily in citrus and dark leafy greens, folic acid has a slew of crucial functions. With that, here are some fun facts about folic acid:

  •  Folic acid is found in fresh folia. (Say that 10 times fast!) Folia is the Latin plural for leaf, and folic acid is named after the leafy vegetables where is it mainly found. For example, spinach and romaine lettuce are two of the most folic-acid-rich vegetables around.

A handy diagram for natural sources of folate, a form of folic acid.

  • The FDA has mandated that folic acid be added to fortified foods such as enriched bread and pasta. That doesn’t mean you can skip out on the vegetables, though!

  • One of the populations most at risk for folic acid deficiency is women age 14–30. Folic acid is actually a synthetic form of folate. Even though folic acid is not found naturally, it is better absorbed than actual folate!

UTS Folic Acid_Pic.png

This structure is named (2S)-2-[[4-[(2-amino-4-oxo-1H-pteridin-6-yl)methylamino]benzoyl]amino]pentanedioic acid but is more known (thankfully) by its alias, folic acid.

  • Folate plays a role in pyrimidine synthesis during DNA division. Pyrimidine is an important part of our DNA — who knew that stuff in spinach would end up as part of the blueprint for building new cells?

  • Because folate is a crucial component of cells, many drugs are antifolates, meaning they block folic acid’s role in the cell. For example, one of the more common antimalarial drugs, Proguanil, targets folic acid pathways.

  • Folic acid was discovered in the attic of a chemistry building at the University of Texas. A crucial component of the experiment was a steam kettle.

  • Dr. Esmond Snell, the scientist who led the journey to the discovery of folic acid, sacrificed four tons of spinach to isolate the compound.

Dr. Edmond Snell, the discoverer of folic acid.

  • Folic acid is crucial for pregnant women, playing roles such as in neural tube formation in developing fetuses.

  • Folic acid deficiency may lead to anemia, or low red blood cell (RBC) count. This is because folic acid, as a B vitamin, aids in building RBCs; low folic acid may lead to low RBC formation.

  • Certain diseases cause folic acid deficiencies, including diseases requiring the patient to undergo dialysis or Crohn’s disease.

So the next time you’re pulling gray hairs and screaming “What the folic acid?,” consider spicing your situation up with this crucial vitamin. Maybe Popeye’s love of spinach has scientific grounding after all. (It just might work its folic acid magic.)

*Facts and scenarios described in this article are for illustrative purposes. Seek a physician for a professional opinion.


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About

I am a second year, physiology and neuroscience major at Muir College. My academic interests are in neurological disorders, especially developmental disorders such as autism, and I hope to carry this passion to medical school. Outside of class, I enjoy playing the piano, making (eating) cookies and singing--in a top of my lungs, windows down kind of way. And, thanks to UCSD, I've found a love for spur of the moment beach trips and a new appreciation for sleep.