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About Folate: Importance, Levels, and the Folate Blood Test

written by: Melanie Greenwood•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 7/28/2010

Folate, aka folic acid, is an important vitamin, and lack of it can cause serious health problems. Read on to learn what folate is, who should be concerned about adequate folate levels, and the folate blood test.

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    What is Folate?

    Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B vitamin. The human body requires folate in order to manufacture blood cells, create DNA, and to regulate normal growth (WebMD, 2008).

    Folate is also one of the key vitamins in woman’s health. Adequate folate levels help a woman's body replace blood cells lost during menses (her period). Folate is even more important for women who desire to be mothers. Low folate levels have been linked to serious birth defects, such as spina bifida (failure of the spine to close, which can cause lifelong disability) and anencephaly (when and infant is born without a brain) (WebMD, 2008).

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    Who Should Be Concerned About Adequate Folate Levels?

    All women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should be concerned about adequate folate levels. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that every woman of reproductive age get at least 400mg of folate per day (CDC, 2010).

    Another group that should be concerned about adequate folate levels includes those who are unable, due to allergies or other conditions, to consume folate-rich foods. Folate-rich foods include liver, citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals and breads (WebMD, 2008).

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    Folate Blood Test and Related Tests

    Folate levels may be checked for many reasons. The most common reason a physician orders a test is to ensure that an expectant mother has adequate folate levels in her blood.

    Also, since low folate levels can cause anemia (WebMD, 2008) a folate test may be performed if a patient complains of anemia symptoms, such as unexplained fatigue, pale skin, or a fast or irregular heartbeat (NIH).

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    Other Tests that May Accompany a Folate Test

    Folate levels may be checked for many reasons. The most common reason a physician orders a test is to ensure that an expectant mother has adequate folate levels in her blood.

    Also, since low folate levels can cause anemia (WebMD, 2008) a folate test may be performed if a patient complains of anemia symptoms, such as unexplained fatigue, pale skin, or a fast or irregular heartbeat (NIH).

    Often, a physician who orders a folate test will also order that a patient have his or her levels of vitamin B 12 checked. Low B 12 levels can cause the same types of anemia that low folate can, and since the body requires folate in order to use B 12, high B 12 levels can be one indication that folate levels are off (WebMD 2008).

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    How a Folate Test is Done

    Folate testing is done through a simple blood draw, usually done right in the doctor's office, but sometimes done in a lab. The physician who orders the test can explain if any specific preparations, such as fasting, that are required.

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    Want to Learn More?

    Check out these great Bright Hub articles

    Food Sources of Folate

    Folic Acid and Women of Childbearing Age

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    References

    Centers for Disease Control. (2010). Facts About Folic Acid. CDC.gov. Retrieved 28 July, 2010 from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.com

    WebMD Staff. (2008). Folic Acid Test. WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved 28 July, 2010 from http://www.webmd.com/diet/folic-acid