Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9, vitamin Bc or folacin) and folate (the naturally occurring form), as well aspteroyl-L-glutamic acid, pteroyl-L-glutamate, and pteroylmonoglutamic acid are forms of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folic acid is itself not biologically active, but its biological importance is due to tetrahydrofolate and other derivatives after its conversion to dihydrofolic acid in the liver.
Vitamin B9 (folic acid and folate inclusive) is essential to numerous bodily functions. The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and methylate DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in biological reactions involving folate. It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy, as well as in "feeding" some cancers. While a normal diet also high in natural folates may decrease the risk of cancer, there is diverse evidence that high folate intake from supplementation may actually promote some cancers as well as precancerous tumors and lesions.Children and adults both require folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Folate and folic acid derive their names from the Latin word folium (which means "leaf"). Leafy vegetables are a principal source, although in Western diets fortified cereals and bread may be a larger dietary source.
A lack of dietary folic acid leads to folate deficiency which is uncommon in normal Western diets. Failures to replenish one's folates might not manifest themselves as folate deficiency for 4 months because a healthy individual has about 500–20,000 mcg of folate in body stores. This deficiency can result in many health problems, the most notable one being neural tube defects in developing embryos. Common symptoms of folate deficiency include diarrhea, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and limb numbness (peripheral neuropathy), pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive declines, mental depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Low levels of folate can also lead to homocysteine accumulation. DNA synthesis and repair are impaired and this could lead to cancer development. Supplementation in patients with ischaemic heart disease may also lead to increased rates of cancer.