Folate deficiency

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 8 Nov 2018

Folate deficiency (hypovitaminosis B9) is the most common vitamin deficiency in the Western world. It is especially important in pregnant women and common amongst alcoholics. 


Deficiency arises in two distinct populations:

  1. increased demand (pregnancy and lactation)
  2. decreased absorption (alcoholism and chronic small bowel pathology)


In adults and children folate deficiency may lead to megaloblastic anemia due to the reduced synthesis of DNA in the highly tetrahydrofolate (THF)-dependent stem cells of erythropoiesis.

Earlier in embryogenesis, formation of the neural tube is dependent on adequate levels of folate. Deficiency in this critical time is a well-known cause of neural tube defects and as such there may be a need for pregnant women (and women planning to conceive) to take folate supplementation.

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