Summaries of the latest research concerning
By Hans R. Larsen MSc ChE
Health starts with the individual cells of our body. If our cells are healthy so are we. Healthy cells, in turn, depend
on the continued, faultless replication of our DNA. DNA can be seriously damaged through attacks by free radicals so an adequate
antioxidant status is essential to cell health. However, it is becoming clear that antioxidants alone are not enough to protect
our DNA; more and more research points to the B vitamin folic acid as being equally or perhaps even more important in ensuring
proper DNA replication. It is not surprising that a folic acid deficiency has been implicated in a wide variety of disorders
from Alzheimer's disease to atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, cervical and colon cancer, depression, dementia,
cleft lip and palate, hearing loss, and of course, neural tube defects.
Folic acid (folinic acid, folacin, pteroylglutamic acid) is essential for the synthesis of adenine and thymine, two of
the four nucleic acids that make up our genes, DNA and chromosomes. It is also required for the proper metabolism of the essential
amino acid methionine that is found primarily in animal proteins. A folic acid deficiency has been clearly linked to an elevated
level of homocysteine, a sulfur-containing amino acid. High homocysteine levels, in turn, have been linked to cardiovascular
disease and a host of other undesirable conditions.
It is unfortunately, estimated that 88 per cent of all North Americans suffer from a folic acid deficiency. Obviously,
the standard diet does not supply what we need. This has led to the fortification of cereals and other foodstuffs to try to
ensure a minimum daily intake of 0.4 mg/day. Although beans and green vegetables like spinach and kale are good sources of
folic acid, relatively few people eat lots of vegetables and cooking destroys most of the folate anyway. Realizing the poor
availability from the diet many medical researchers now advocate daily supplementation with folic acid. Because folic acid
needs the catalysts vitamins B12 and B6 to carry out its functions effectively it is usual to supplement with a combination
of the three. Dosage recommendations for folic acid vary between 0.4 mg/day and 10 mg/day or more depending on the severity
of the deficiency and the health problem to be overcome. The RDA for adults is now 0.4 mg/day and 0.6 mg/day for pregnant
women. Recommendations for vitamin B12 generally range from 0.5 to 1.0 mg/day and for vitamin-B6 from 10 to 250 mg/day.
Supplementation with folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 costs only pennies a day and yet it is indeed hard to imagine an
investment that would pay greater dividends in protecting your health.