Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B9. It is an essential nutrient that you must acquire from food. Foods like dark leafy vegetables, citrus, sunflower seeds and fortified cereals have an abundance of folic acid. This vitamin plays a critical role in maintaining your body function. It is needed to make your oxygen carrying red blood cells and it is also needed in ensure proper DNA replication. Not having enough sufficient folic acid through your diet can lead to a variety of health issues, such as abnormal red blood cells, anemia, lack of energy, diarrhea and depression.
For pregnant women, folic acid deficiency can be detrimental to the fetus because it can cause severe birth defects. Some recent studies have showed that increasing folic acid intake can help treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system turns against your own tissues and destroys them as foreign invaders. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause damage to your organs, bones, but most frequently, it occurs in the joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis have chronic joint inflammation, swelling and pain. This disease is also degenerative. In severe cases, it can lead to joint deformation and permanent loss of function.
Folic Acid in Treatment
Within the context of rheumatoid arthritis, folic acid is most frequently used as a supplemental medication during treatment with methotrexate. Methotrexate is originally an anti-cancerous drug used in chemotherapy, but studies have showed that at low dosages, long term treatment with methotrexate can effectively suppress the onset and severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
Taking methotrexate can inhibit the activation of folic acid in your cells and can increase your risks of folic acid deficiency. This can lead to side effects such as stomach ulcers, nausea, hair loss, blood problems and liver damage. Therefore, if you're taking methotrexate, you need to increase your daily intake of folic acid to prevent these symptoms from occurring.
Though for cancer patients, taking folic acid can counteract the efficacy of methotrexate, studies showed that a daily supplement of 5 milligrams of folic acid can effectively prevent folic acid deficiency, as well as protect the patient against rheumatoid arthritis.
Folic acid in Prevention
There are other studies that actually link the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis with folic acid deficiency. A significant percentage of patients with rheumatoid arthritis are folic acid deficient. Studies have also showed that patients who are supplemented with folic acid showed reduced level of symptoms. Some results suggest that taking 5 milligrams of folic acid per day can have a protective effect against rheumatoid arthritis.
Though there is scientific theory that explains why folic acid protects against rheumatoid arthritis, studies have showed that taking folic acid during treatment with methotrexate is very effective. Even if you are not on methotrexate, taking an extra dose of the vitamin can give you some extra protection against this disease.