A pair of recent studies have shown how a lack of the B vitamin folate can harm the health of athletes as well as young women and, quite possibly, their babies.
A CDC study that examined blood tests of 4,500 women of childbearing years over a period of five years found an 8 percent to 16 percent decline in folate levels.
This marks the first time a decline has been observed since the start of health campaigns urging women to get enough folic acid.
Folate deficiencies in mothers have previously been shown to be a factor in serious birth defects of the spine and brain, known as neural tube defects.
Meanwhile, another study has shown that athletes who are deficient in B vitamins, including folate, perform less well and repair and build muscle tissue more slowly.
A folate deficiency can lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which can be a major contributor to heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Folate is also useful for preventing depression, seizure disorders, and brain atrophy.
One unfortunate and preventable reason why some believe folate numbers are slipping: the epidemic of obesity plaguing society that influences the way most people metabolize this essential vitamin.
But it's important to remember that the best way to raise your folate levels is NOT to take a multivitamin or eat "enriched" processed foods. Instead, FRESH, raw, high-quality vegetables make all the difference. Folate is replenished easily and naturally by eating folate-rich whole foods.
Just always remember that supplements are never an acceptable substitute for regular consumption of high-quality, unprocessed (preferably organic) foods.
Ideally, the best kind of vegetables you could eat may be found at small local farms. If you've been having difficulty finding a local source for your whole foods, you'll want to review my recent list of some great resources to locate farmers' markets and family farms near you.
One reader, a Rehab, Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, Josh Rubin from California notes:
"...Folic acid def[initely] leads to catabolism of histadine. Low levels of histadine creates catabolism in the body and has been shown to be as a marker to arthritic and RA conditions.
"Low folate levels can lead to inhibition of DNA synthesis, impaired cell division, and alterations in protein synthesis."
And reader, Bryan from Texas, adds:
"Some of the top food sources of folate: liver, asparagus, spinach, okra, beans."