Folic acid is also known as folacin, vitamin M and vitamin B9 and is an essential component in a large number of biochemical processes in the human body. Would you like to have a memory like you had seven years ago? A study conducted by a group of Dutch researchers found that folic acid helpful in improving the memory of a person. Let us find out how this important acid came into being and how it is important in our day-to-day life.
Folic acid is a large organic molecule which has a complicated structure. Its empirical formula is C19H19N7O6. It is not biologically active by itself, but it becomes active when it is converted to dihydrofolic acid and then tetrahydrofolate in the liver.
The chemical is defined as a vitamin because it is a vital component in our diet that we must obtain from food. It is particularly necessary for pregnant women soon after conception because without folic acid the embryo may develop neural tube defects and other developmental disorders. In the late 1990s, US scientists realized that despite the availability of folate in foods and in supplements, there was still a challenge for people to meet their daily folate requirements, which is when the US implemented the folate fortification program.
The function of the folate molecules produced from folic acid is to help in the transfer of one-carbon units (methylation) in a variety of reactions that are critical to the metabolism of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins.
So, the synthesis of DNA from its precursors is dependent on the presence of folate molecules as co-enzymes. They are also necessary in order to prevent the changes to DNA molecules which could lead to the formation of cancers. Folates are also necessary for the formation of several important amino acids like methionine. This helps in preventing a build up of homocysteine which is a precursor of methionine, and a risk factor for heart disease.
So, make sure you include the main sources of this essential nutrient which include green leafy vegetables, sprouts and asparagus. Besides these, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are also good sources of folic acid and citrus fruit juices and fortified grain products such as cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid can also be taken as a supplement in tablet form.