8 Symptoms of Folic Acid Deficiency

Folic acid deficiency can occur when dietary intake of this nutrient is not sufficient enough to meet the body’s needs. Folate (the natural form of folic acid) needs are increased in times of rapid cell growth such as in adolescence and pregnancy. All body cells require folate for proper DNA and RNA synthesis. Certain medications and alcohol may interfere with the body’s ability to utilize folate leading to an increased need of this nutrient. The following is a list of deficiency symptoms.

Lack of Folic Acid

  •  Loss of appetite and weight loss. There may be a reduced sense of taste and the tongue can become red and sore. Swallowing may also become painful.
  • Anemia. Symptom can develop gradually and fatigue is typically the first sign. If the disorder progresses, paleness, dizziness and shortness of breath can occur.
  • Mood disorders. Folate is essential for the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine. Folic acid deficiency can cause irritability and memory problems. It is the most common vitamin deficiency in manic depression patients.
  • Progressive gastrointestinal problems. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. These symptoms often occur after meals.
  • Skin irritation. Dark patches on the skin can occur with folic acid deficiency, especially on the palms and soles of the feet. This will typically resolve after the levels of folate in the body have been brought back up to normal. It may, however, take weeks or months for the hyperpigmentation to disappear.
  • Bone fractures. These are more likely to occur in the elderly.
  • Low libido. This condition is common in men.
  • Fetal problems. This can occur if folate levels are low during pregnancy. A deficiency at this time can cause miscarriages or low birth weight. It is important to start taking folic acid supplements prior to attempting to become pregnant, as this can prevent some cases of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The recommended daily allowance for women increases during pregnancy from 400 mcg to 600 mcg.

The Importance of Folate

Because the body can only store small amounts of folate, a diet lacking this nutrient can produce deficiency symptoms within just a few months. Thankfully, many foods  such as breads and cereals, are now fortified with folic acid. This has cut down on the number of deficiency cases. Certain populations, such as pregnant women, alcoholics and those who take certain medications, are at higher risk of folic acid deficiency. The best sources of natural folate are green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and beef liver.


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