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Monday, April 13, 2009

The ABC's of Vitamins - Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 is the next vitamin in the series, which may lead some to ask, what happened to B8? B8 was used for adenylic acid (a DNA metabolite) until it was discovered that is synthesized by the human body & wasn’t a vitamin. Vitamin B9, like a lot of its B-vitamin brethren, is a generic term for all forms of pteroic acid with vitamin activity. The other common generic name in use is folate; but folic acid is how you are most likely to see this vitamin designated even though it is not the form found commonly in nature.

The folate found in food is bound and must be digested by enzymes in the small intestine before we can utilize it; the same is not true for the form typically found in supplements and fortifications. Luckily, folate is an essential biochemical constituent of living cells, making it pretty easy to find in foods. Orange juice, eggs (cooked), beans, spinach, whole grains, asparagus, and peanuts are all good sources of B9. In addition, folate is added as a fortification to cereals and grain products (required in all commercial grain products per the FDA).

Folate is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, metabolism of some amino acids (proteins), cognitive function, metabolism of fat and reducing homocysteine levels which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The recommended daily intake is 400 micrograms per day, and because we don’t absorb it well (that whole breaking it down problem) and because so many of us don’t eat very well, many people are deficient.

Deficiencies, especially long-term ones, can lead to elevated plasma homocysteine levels which are an early indicator of atherosclerosis and the potential for DNA breaks which may lead to an increased cancer risk. Deficiency during pregnancy is related to the elevated occurrence of neural tube defects (probably the effect with which most people are familiar).

Vitamin B9 works closely with vitamin B12 and that’s great, because that is our next vitamin and the last of the B vitamins to be covered. “B” there for the next post!

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