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Benefits of folic acid

12/02/03 12:00AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(Host) Commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz reminds you to take your vitamins, and especially one in particular.

(Barosse) We all know that there are many things we should be doing to keep ourselves healthy. Eating well, including 5 fruits and vegetables per day, exercising, both aerobically and weight bearing, and limiting the use of alcohol are all said to help you age successfully.

But, one of the easiest things we can do to age successfully is take a multivitamin daily. Just make sure it has 400mcg of folic acid, the synthetic form of folate and one of the B vitamins. Folate is also found in leafy green vegetables, broccoli and asparagus, fortified pasta, grains and cereals, citrus fruits, beans, nuts and liver.

For men and women, folate is necessary to good health beginning in late adolescence and extending into our elderly years.

Many studies have shown that all sexually active women should be taking folate in their food or as a supplement. Folate, when taken by mothers, lowers the risk of brain and spine defects in their babies, and a rare childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. But taking the vitamin after discovering a pregnancy is too late, since the risk for the disease begins very early. However, in a study of younger women, only 12% were taking enough folate.

Just as folate is good for mother's-to-be, it may also be good for fathers. There is some evidence that folate may increase fertility by keeping sperm healthy.

Folate has been shown to be very beneficial for both men and women in other ways too. This important nutrient helps to get rid of homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body, which sticks to the inside of blood vessels. This can add to clogging of the arteries. Eating foods high in folate, or taking a multivitamin with folic acid, reduces the risk of atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart disease.

Destruction of homocysteine also helps to protect adult nerve cells from age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Elderly women who don't take enough folate are at twice the risk for depression.

Studies show that folate can reduce abnormal cell growth in the colon, an early sign of colon cancer, cutting the chance of colon cancer by more than 50%. In people who drink, folate helps reduce risk of alcoholic liver disease.

Women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Eating foods high in folate reduces this risk.

So for a simple and easy way to age successfully, take your multi-vitamin every day. But, make sure it has 400mcg of folic acid. And don't forget to eat 3 to 5 fruits and vegetables a day, including citrus fruits and strawberries, and leafy greens. With so much research behind it, folate is one of the most beneficial of all vitamins.

In East Dorset, this is Mary Barrosse Schwartz.

Mary Barosse-Schwartz is a mother, a freelance writer and an artist.
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