Impact of deficiency
Folate deficiency causes birth defects in the developing foetus during the earliest weeks of pregnancy - before most women are aware that they are pregnant. Folate deficiency has been found to be associated with a high risk of pre-term delivery and low birthweight, though it is not clear that this would hold in all populations. Folate deficiency also contributes to anaemia, especially in pregnant and lactating women.
Who is affected
Although data are not abundant, in several developing countries women in their reproductive years have been found to have very high rates of folate deficiency. Young children are also likely to be at risk.
What folate does
This B vitamin helps in the formation of red blood cells. Folate also regulates the nerve cells at the embryonic and foetal stages of development, helping to prevent serious neural tube defects (of the brain and/or spinal cord).
Folate is found in almost all foods, but the best sources are liver, kidney, fish, green leafy vegetables, beans and groundnuts.
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