Folate: Water-Soluble Vitamin Deficiency & Toxicity Symptoms

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  • 0:02 Folate
  • 1:27 Neural Tube Defects
  • 3:17 Megaloblastic Anemia
  • 4:41 Toxicity
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Folate, also known as B9, is found naturally in green leafy vegetables and other foods or obtained through folic acid, which is an easily absorbed form of folate. Learn about folate deficiency symptoms, such as neural tube defects, and toxicity symptoms in this lesson.


I don't think you would argue with me if I said your nervous system was pretty important. It acts as your body's control center, regulating actions, coordinating movements and allowing you to sense the world around you. It's so important that the one inside of you started developing when you were a tiny embryo, not much bigger than the tip of a pen. At that time in your development, a minute plate of your nervous tissue began to crease and fold together to form the neural tube that would later become your brain and spinal cord.

This is one of the miracles of life, yet in order for this miracle to happen, women who are pregnant or who plan on becoming pregnant need to take in an ample supply of folate, or (B9), which is a B-complex vitamin that helps with the making of DNA and proper cell division. Folate occurs naturally in foods. In fact, it's found in green leafy vegetables, which are foods that you can refer to as foliage, which is how folate got its name. Yet, leafy vegetables, like spinach, are not the only source of this vitamin as it can also be found in asparagus, nuts, beans, lentils and orange juice. In this lesson, we will take a look at the important jobs of this B vitamin to learn what happens when too little or too much is consumed.

Neural Tube Defects

Now, we already learned that adequate folate intake is needed in the earliest stage of a woman's pregnancy. The risk of birth defects is so high due to a lack of folate that the FDA mandates that folic acid, which is an easily absorbed form of folate, is to be added to certain breads and breakfast cereals. So, we see that enriched grains provide folate in a slightly different, but equally beneficial form.

Due to this action by the FDA, the risk of folate (B9) deficiency, which means you get too little folate in your diet, has diminished dramatically in developed countries, like the U.S. Yet, the problem has not been completely eliminated. Neural tube defects are birth defects related to the brain and spinal cord. In essence, what happens is the neural tube does not fully close, creating an exposed and open gap.

If this happens in the lower part, it results in spina bifida, which is a birth defect in which the bony spine does not fully enclose the spinal cord. The term literally means 'spine bifurcation,' which you might want to simplify to 'spine split' to help you recall this term. Spina bifida leaves the delicate cord and related tissues unprotected and can result in paralysis of the legs as these structures are controlled by nerves traveling through this area.

If the gap happens high in the neural tube, the result is anencephaly, which is a birth defect in which a portion of the brain is missing. This definition is hidden in the name - the prefix 'an' means without, and the word 'encephaly' refers to brain. So, these children are literally born without an entire brain and it's not likely that they will survive more than a few days.

Megaloblastic Anemia

Folate is not only important during pregnancy, it's needed throughout life due to its role in the synthesis of DNA. In order for your cells to divide properly, they must be able to make DNA, which is a process aided by folate. As you might guess, the cells in your body that need to divide quickly would be the ones most affected by a folate (B9) deficiency. This would include your red blood cells.

If there's insufficient folate, your red blood cells cannot divide properly. Instead, they just keep getting bigger and never mature. Basically, your red blood cells become oversized babies that never grow up and divide. These big babies are called megaloblasts, which literally means 'big immature cells.'

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