Toggle: English / Spanish
Folate deficiency means you have a lower than normal amount of folic acid, a type of B vitamin, in your blood.
Deficiency - folic acid, Folic acid deficiency
Folic acid works with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and make new proteins. The vitamin helps form red blood cells. It also helps produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information.
Folic acid is water-soluble type of B vitamin. This means it is not stored in the fat tissues of the body. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine.
Because folate is not stored in the body in large amounts, your blood levels will get low after only a few weeks of eating a diet low in folate. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables and liver.
Causes of folate deficiency are:
- Diseases in which folic acid is not well absorbed in the digestive system (such as or )
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating overcooked vegetables
- Hemolytic anemia
- Certain medicines (such as phenytoin, sulfasalazine, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole)
- Eating an unhealthy diet that does not include enough fruits and vegetables
- Some genetic disorders that affect levels of folate, such as MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) deficiency
Folic acid deficiency may cause:
- Gray hair
Mouth sores (ulcers)
- Poor growth
Exams and Tests
Folate deficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test. Pregnant women commonly have this blood test at prenatal checkups.
In folate-deficiency anemia, the red blood cells are abnormally large (megaloblastic).
Pregnant women need to get enough folic acid. The vitamin is important to the growth of the fetus’ spinal cord and brain. Folic acid deficiency can cause severe birth defects known as neural tube defects.
The best way to get vitamins your body needs is to eat a balanced diet. Most people in the United States eat enough folic acid because it is plentiful in the food supply.
Folate occurs naturally in the following foods:
Beans and legumes
Citrus fruits and juices
Dark green leafy vegetables
Poultry, pork, and shellfish
Wheat bran and other whole grains
The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 400 micrograms of folate daily. Women who could become pregnant should take folic acid supplements to ensure that they get enough each day.
Specific recommendations depend on a person's age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Many foods now have extra folic acid added to help prevent birth defects.
Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 167.
Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 37.
- Last reviewed on 9/20/2013
- Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.