Humans need to maintain an adequate dietary intake of folate during various stages of their lives. Folate plays an essential role in cell division and DNA synthesis and is involved in periods of rapid growth and development, such as pregnancy and infancy. Folate is particularly important to help develop the baby’s skull and spinal cord, which is why low levels of this vitamin, before and during pregnancy, can lead to severe birth defects, called neural tube defects.
Folate also contributes to many other functions in the body. For example, it works together with vitamin B12 to create our genetic material (DNA), form healthy red blood cells, and support the normal functioning of our brain and nervous system. Both vitamins, alongside vitamin B6, also collaborate in the breaking down of homocysteine, an amino acid that can put us at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, when present in high amounts.
Folate deficiency has far-reaching negative health consequences at all stages of life and has been implicated in the aetiology of a variety of disorders including anaemia, various forms of cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis, all which have become pervasive health issues around the world in the 20th century.