Folic acid is another one of the B vitamins, referred to sometimes as folate (its
related anion form), or simply as vitamin B9. The most notable role folate and folic
acid play in bone health is in the detoxification of homocysteine, an amino
acid linked with inflammation and increased fractures.
Anywhere from 5–50% of any given population (varying by geographic region and ethnicity)
may have genetic variants that impact their ability to optimally metabolize folate
and, thus, their ability to prevent homocysteine build-up, detoxify adequately,
and keep inflammation at bay.
Homocysteine is a compound produced as a by-product of the metabolism of the amino
acid methionine. Normally, homocysteine gets recycled as another substance
or eliminated, but excess blood levels can accumulate as a result of genetic or
nutritional factors. Excess homocysteine promotes both osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.
The proper processing of homocysteine requires folic acid. Researchers suggest that
around the time of menopause, women experience
a reduced capacity to process homocysteine appropriately. It is not known whether
this is a universal trait or one found only in more developed countries. Supplementing
with folic acid has been found to improve this homocysteine processing problem.
Deficiency of folic acid is an extremely common problem in many parts of the world
where diets of refined foods predominate. The average US intake is only about half
the RDA. Women taking oral contraceptives
or estrogen replacement, as well as users of alcohol and long-term users of anticonvulsant
medications, are at special risk for drug-induced folic acid deficiency.
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