Folate is needed to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It helps the development of the foetal nervous system, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth. Women of child-bearing age need a diet rich in folate.
If planning a pregnancy, you should consider taking supplements or eating fortified foods (vitamins added to processed food). This is important to reduce risks such as spina bifida in the baby.
More information about folate:
- Sources of folate – these include green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, liver, poultry, eggs, cereals and citrus fruits.
- Excessive intake – folate is generally considered non-toxic, although excessive intakes above 1,000 mg per day over a period of time can lead to malaise, irritability and intestinal dysfunction. The main risk with excessive folate intake is that it can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, so it is best to consume these two vitamins within the recommended amounts.
- Folate deficiency – the symptoms include weight loss, tiredness, fatigue and weakness, folate-deficiency anaemia (megaloblastic anaemia) and (during pregnancy) an increased risk of a neural tube defects such as spina bifida for the baby.