Why is the RBC (=red blood cell) folate marker a better marker than the serum folate marker?
- Serum folate measurement provides an early index of folate status; however, folate is much more concentrated in red blood cells than in serum so the red blood cell folate measurement more closely reflects tissue stores.
- Erythrocytes incorporate folate as they are formed, and levels remain constant throughout the life span of the cell.
- RBC folate levels are less sensitive to short-term dietary effects than are serum folate levels.
Hence, red blood cell folate concentration is considered the most reliable indicator of folate status.
Folates are compounds of pteroylglutamic acid (PGA) that function as coenzymes in metabolic reactions involving the transfer of single-carbon units from a donor to a recipient compound. Folate, with vitamin B12, is essential for DNA synthesis, which is required for normal red blood cell maturation. Humans obtain folate from dietary sources including fruits, green and leafy vegetables, yeast, and organ meats. Folate is absorbed through the small intestine and stored in the liver.
- Low folate intake, malabsorption as a result of gastrointestinal diseases, pregnancy, and drugs such as phenytoin are causes of folate deficiency.
- Folate deficiency is also associated with chronic alcoholism.
- Folate and vitamin B12 deficiency impair DNA synthesis, causing macrocytic anemias. These anemias are characterized by abnormal maturation of red blood cell precursors in the bone marrow, the presence of megaloblasts, and decreased red blood cell survival.
Since both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency can cause macrocytic anemia, appropriate treatment depends on the differential diagnosis of the deficiency.
Low serum folate during pregnancy has been associated with neural tube defects in the fetus.
A high level of Folate in the blood may indicate that you eat a diet rich in folic acid or are taking folate supplements. Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, and as such the body can easily remove excess amounts through urine. Therefore, consuming more Folate than the body needs does not cause problems. A high Folate level can also mean vitamin B12 deficiency. Our bodies need vitamin B12 to use Folate; if there isn’t enough vitamin B12 then a buildup of folate can occur. That being said, a folic acid test isn’t a reliable way to test for vitamin B12 deficiency.
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