Signs, causes, and treatments for folic acid deficiency

The folic acid deficiency is a deficiency disease caused by other diseases, too low intake of folate or a greater need for the vitamin folic acid, for example, during pregnancy. Learn more about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of folic acid deficiency.

What is folic acid deficiency, causes and symptoms

Folic acid deficiency is a vitamin s deficiency disease due to lack of supply of this acid, a water-soluble vitamin from the group of B vitamins. It is sometimes referred to as vitamin B9, vitamin B11, folic acid, pteroyl glutamate or pteroylglutamic acid.

It is involved in several important growth and metabolic processes.

Without enough of this acid, there is a risk of developmental damage to blood, cells, and DNA, the genetic material. Therefore, a folic acid deficiency in pregnancy has a particularly strong impact.

A dreaded consequence of its deficiency is an open back (spina bifida), another a cleft lip and palate.

Since it plays a central role in blood formation, persistent folic acid deficiency leads to anemia.


The typical symptoms of folic acid deficiency are usually the consequences of anemia. First, it gives a surprising paleness. External changes in the tongue, which looks red and inflamed (glossitis), are also visible.

Folic acid deficiency and anemia are associated with general performance losses, such as fatigue, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating.

In severe cases, folic acid deficiency causes cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory distress. Both are due to the fact that due to a lack of red blood cells; not enough oxygen enters the body.

With the lack of platelets, the tendency to bleeding increases. As a result, there is bleeding of the mucous membrane, pinpoint hemorrhages in the skin and increased bruising. The lack of white blood cells manifests itself mainly in an increased susceptibility to infections.


  • Anemia, and also vitamin B12 deficiency (because folic acid deficiency and vitamin B12 deficiency sometimes occur together).
  • Poor appetite and weight loss.
  • Depending on cellular deficiency, heart and breathing difficulties, increased propensity to bleed, and defensive weakness
  • In pregnancy: miscarriage or embryo malformations (for example, neural tube defects such as an open back).

Causes of folic acid deficiency

In most cases, folic acid deficiency is caused by a poorly balanced diet or alcohol abuse. Chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver and severe indigestion, such as gluten intolerance (celiac disease) or hyperthyroidism, are other causes.

The use of birth control pills, cancer drugs, or rheumatic methotrexate may be responsible for a deficiency. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are also often a cause.

Thus, we list below the most common causes of this deficiency.

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Severe indigestion
  • Poorly balanced diet
  • Pregnancy (due to increased need for the vitamin)
  • Taking certain medications (including birth control pills and medications for cancer and rheumatism).


The treatment of folic acid deficiency in healthy people who are not pregnant, usually done with a change in diet. For sick or pregnant women, supplementing folic acid in the form of a medication or dietary supplement may be helpful.

Fresh foods, especially green vegetables, legumes, wheat products, and milk, as well as dairy products, contain folic acid.

In addition, the yolk of eggs and liver contain much of the vital B vitamin.

Targeted folic acid deficiency in cancer

To treat malignant tumors, a targeted deficiency of folic acid sometimes occurs. So-called folic acid antagonists are used for this purpose. These medications alleviate the effects of this vitamin.

Cancer cannot produce any genetic material without folic acid and therefore cannot produce new tumor cells, so this form of treatment must be considered. Unfortunately, this therapy does not always have the expected success.

Cooking food destroys folic acid

Folic acid has a special property, it is sensitive to heat: about 90 percent of this acid contained in food is destroyed during cooking. For example, if you want to consume it through dairy products, it should not be a rice pudding in which the milk has been boiled.

The classic glass of milk, as well as cream cheese or yogurt are better. For lactose intolerance, leafy vegetables like spinach, legumes, and wheat products can be a good source of folic acid.

Increased requirement for folic acid during pregnancy

Normally, the daily requirement for folic acid in an adult human is approximately 0.1 mg per day. With a varied and fresh diet, this need is usually covered.

Pregnant women have a double need for folic acid. Especially when having unbalanced nutrition (for example, a large amount of fast food), it is that a deficiency of folic acid can occur with the possible serious consequences for the embryo.

Women who wish to have children should speak with a gynecologist about any necessary folic acid supplementation when planning a pregnancy.

Folic acid from the pharmacy

When there is an increased need for this vitamin during pregnancy or in folic acid disorders, experts agree to supply it through tablets or infusions as dietary supplements.

Those who do not take enough folic acid with their food can take a pill as a supplement, which is suitable for preparations that meet the recommended daily intake limit of 400 micrograms.

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