Pregnancy is a crucial period for the mother and the development of her future baby.
During this phase, nutritional needs must be carefully monitored and some of them require additional intake.
This is particularly the case for vitamin B9 or folate, which is particularly important at this period of life. It is one of the essential nutrients for the body, particularly for pregnant women and newborns .
In this article we provide a complete review of the role of this vitamin, also called the “vitamin for pregnant women” .
Definition and role of vitamin B9 in the body.
Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble vitamin from group B. It comes in several molecular forms of equivalent functionality, but of different fragility. Generally speaking, we will distinguish folate , the natural form of vitamin B9 present in foods but very sensitive to heat (largely destroyed by cooking), from folic acid , the synthetic form used in food supplements, more resistant.
Vitamin B9 is mainly involved in the synthesis of proteins, the main constituents of the body's tissues. It acts on two levels:
- In metabolism general amino acids which are the 'building blocks' of proteins.
- In the production of DNA (the support for genetic information and codes allowing protein synthesis).
Vitamin B9 intervenes in these complex reactions with a coenzyme function (= activator and facilitator of these reactions)
Therefore, vitamin B9 is fundamental in cell growth and renewal .
This role is obviously even greater for blood cells (haematocytes and leukocytes), cells of the skin or intestinal walls, which must be renewed frequently.
Its intervention in the formation of red blood cells explains why it is frequently associated with iron in the fight against anemia: both can be the cause.
Studies are also underway on the joint actions of vitamins B12 and B9 in the prevention of cardiovascular pathologies. There would be some positive correlations on the reduction in the risk of stroke.
The vital importance of vitamin B9 during pregnancy
As early as the 1930s, English biologist Lucy Wills observed a particular deficiency affecting pregnant Indian women with a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
Other work during the 20th century gradually made it possible to isolate, characterize and quantify the benefits of vitamin B9.
But it was not until the 1990s that specific nutritional recommendations were made in the USA.
In addition to its essential role in fetal growth , vitamin B9 is directly involved in the closure of the neural tube around the 4th week of pregnancy, an essential step for the proper formation of the nervous system of the future baby.
Vitamin B9 needs in pregnant women.
In women, vitamin B9 needs vary depending on the situation.
For pregnant women , in France, ANSES now recommends intakes of 400 micrograms per day from two months before conception (if it is planned, obviously), and otherwise to ensure these intakes as soon as the pregnancy is known .
For adult women on a normal diet, the recommended intake is 300 micrograms per day.
It is important to note that vitamin B9, whatever its form, is water soluble.
As such, it is easily eliminated in the urine and difficult to store in the body. It is therefore necessary to favor regular daily intakes, rather than massive one-off doses.
Folic acid deficiency
Folic acid is essential for the formation of red and white blood cells .
Logically, the typical symptom of vitamin B9 deficiency is marked pallor associated with anemia (although this pallor can obviously have other origins).
In fact, vitamin B9 deficiency is quite difficult to detect because it also manifests itself through other less characteristic symptoms: redness and inflammation of the tongue, physical and psychological fatigue, cardiac arrhythmias.
There are other possible consequences of prolonged vitamin B9 deficiency:
- Increased predisposition to infections
- Fragility of tissues: increased tendency to hematomas, pinpoint petechiae on the skin, bleeding from the mucous membranes. Etc.
In pregnant women, a vitamin B9 deficiency can cause risks to the newborn.
In addition to its essential role in fetal growth, vitamin B9 is directly involved in the closure of the neural tube around the 4th week of pregnancy, an essential step for the proper formation of the nervous system of the future baby.
Even if Spina Bifida type malformations have a genetic component, they are particularly exacerbated by a Vitamin B9 deficiency.
Vitamin B9 deficiencies could also be involved in a greater incidence of other fetal malformations: cleft palate “harelip”, or heart malformations.
The risks of excess Vitamin B9
Some American studies suggest increased incidences of cancer when taking folic acid in very high doses and for a long period. According to the latter, taking more than 800 micrograms per day would be the cause of the appearance of breast cancer in particular.
However, taking normal and reasonable levels of vitamin B9 is positively correlated with a lower occurrence of colorectal cancers.
Thus, there is no risk or suspicion of risk with the intakes recommended by the French and European authorities (between 300 and 400 µg depending on the situation).
Folic acid and menopause
Vitamin B9 helps reduce hot flashes.
The English medical journal Gynecological Endocrinology published a study in 2010 showing a reduction in hot flashes in a group of women supplemented with vitamin B9.
The appearance of hot flashes is a complex and multifactorial phenomenon, but too low daily intakes of vitamin B9 are increased risk factors.
Food sources of Folate:
Vitamin B9 is not synthesized by the body and therefore, it must be supplied through food.
As the name suggests, Folates are the precursors of the active form of Vitamin B9 which are found in the leaves of plants. All green vegetables contain it.
They are also found in yeasts (brewer's yeast has a very high content) and in eggs, cheese and animal livers.
A varied diet with a good proportion of fresh fruits and vegetables ensures that daily needs are covered, outside of the remarkable periods mentioned above.
Be careful though, Folates are water-soluble and very sensitive to temperature and oxidation: and are easily destroyed. Steaming and 'al dente' cooking protects the folate in vegetables better than cooking for too long in water!
Folic Acid, the synthetic version of vitamin B9, has the advantage of much better stability over time than natural folates, with satisfactory bioavailability.
Vitamin B9 in food supplements
When we talk about food supplements rich in vitamins, it is always important to check the bioavailability between the natural form and the synthetic form.
Bioavailability represents the ability of a molecule to be assimilated and therefore useful and active for the body.
Regarding vitamin B9, it is generally accepted that folic acid has twice the bioavailability of dietary folates.
This is because natural folates must be transformed in the body into a complex molecule (“5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF”) to be absorbed, unlike folic acid which is directly absorbed in this form in the intestine.
However, there is a scientific study published in 2014 (by Imran Patanwala in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , Volume 100, n°2) which strongly qualifies this assertion.
We will remember that both forms are useful!
Vitamin B9 in Argalys formulas
Two of our supplements contain folic acid.
The Multi-vitamin and mineral provides 200 micrograms per capsule: a safe and sufficient dosage including for pregnant or menopausal women in addition to a varied diet
Our food supplement Iron + Vitamin C, B9 and Carrot provides 66 micrograms of Vitamin B9 (33% of the RDI).
Our essentials that contain vitamin B9: