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The role of folic acid in deficiency states and prevention of disease.

Author

Swain RA, St Clair L

Date

2/1997

Journal

J Fam Pract

Abstract

Folic acid, a water-soluble vitamin, has been used since the 1940s to treat some cases of macrocytic anemia without neurologic disease. Folate deficiency is best diagnosed with red blood cell folate levels along with macrocytosis and/or megaloblastic anemia. In addition to reversing overt deficiency, the vitamin may reduce the incidence of neural tube defects by 45% in women who receive 400 micrograms per day. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folate per day. Elevations in homocysteine levels, a metabolite intimately associated with folate, are also being found with increasing regularity in those with cardiovascular diseases. Homocysteine levels are reduced by folic acid administration. Therefore, there is some biologic plausibility, but not currently direct proof, for the assumption that folate supplements may prevent heart disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. Controlled trials should take place before widespread food supplementation with folate is carried out on a large scale because of the possibility of outbreaks of permanent B12-related neurologic damage in those with undiagnosed pernicious anemia. However, if a patient has a premature cardiovascular event and has minimal risk factors, ordering a test to determine homocysteine level may be advisable, and if elevated, treating with folic acid supplement as long as B12 deficiency does not coexist.

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