Folate is also called vitamin B-9. A synthetic form of folate is folic acid. Both folate and folic acid have similarities to vitamin B-12 but are not the same. You do need both. Since they both perform similar tasks in the body, taking too much B-9 can mask a deficiency of B-12., causing B-12-induced megaloblastic anemia, which can lead to damage to the nervous system and brain. It’s one of the dangers of confusing the two. Closely identifying both can help prevent the problem.
The dangers of a B-9—folate—deficiency start in the womb.
Folate is necessary to make red blood cells. It’s also used for the growth and functioning of cells. When a B-9 deficiency occurs during pregnancy, it can lead to fetal defects in the brain and spine. A folate deficiency can cause anemia, which leads to irritability, exhaustion, and shortness of breath. It can cause sores in the mouth, weight loss, diarrhea, and depression.
Many of the symptoms of a B-9 and B-12 deficiency are the same.
Fatigue is one of the signs that you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, and so is megaloblastic anemia. Both are also symptoms of a B-9 deficiency. Megaloblastic anemia affects the red blood cells, making them large and abnormal with impaired DNA synthesis. Too much B-9 can mask a lack of B-12, leading to untreated problems that cause permanent damage. It can occur even when B-12 ranges are within normal ranges or borderline low. Pale skin, headaches, digestive issues, depression, and difficulty concentrating are also symptoms often shared by those who are B-9 deficient. While B-12 deficiencies won’t lead to birth defects, a lack of B-12 can cause neurological problems that a deficiency in B-9 doesn’t create, such as tingling of the hands and feet.
The main difference is the source of B-9 and B-12.
Natural sources of vitamin B-12 and folate vary greatly. B-9 occurs primarily in dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, you can get B-9 from animal sources, such as eggs or chicken. The reverse is not true. You can’t get B-12 from plant sources, just from animal products like milk, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry.
- The way the two vitamins are delivered into the bloodstream also varies. Vitamin B-12 goes through several processes before it’s absorbed in the small intestines. B-9 is only hydrolyzed, then absorbed there.
- A vitamin B-12 deficiency is more likely if the person is vegan, people with a poor diet, those over 60, people breastfeeding or pregnant, taking medication that depletes it, or having certain medical conditions.
- Folate deficiencies can occur due to a poor diet, or people with problems absorbing folate, such as celiac disease. Kidney dialysis and certain medications can cause a deficiency.
- If you think you have a folate or B-12 deficiency, always check with your healthcare professional first. He or she can identify the problem and look for the underlying cause.
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