Serum folate refers to how much folate is in a person’s blood serum. Testing for folate is done by a physician or other qualified healthcare practitioner and involves drawing blood to find out how much of this essential vitamin is present in the serum, as well as how much of it is present in the red blood cells. Measurements specifically give medical professionals an indication of how much folate was recently introduced to the body, whereas folate found and measured in the red blood cells tells them how much folate has been stored in the body for long-term use.
Measuring serum folate levels is important, as doing so helps determine whether a person has an elevated levels or whether a person is suffering from a deficiency. Both of these conditions are potentially hazardous to a person’s health and, therefore, should be monitored, particularly if a person is taking folate supplements. While most people’s levels are fine when the vitamin is gained from natural sources, individuals who supplement with folic acid vitamins are more likely to have elevated amounts, which can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Individuals with a past history of alcohol abuse or who are anemic are more likely to have a deficiency.
Folate is a B vitamin naturally found in foods like broccoli, turnip greens, eggs, yeast, dried beans, and citrus fruits. When a synthetic form is used as a vitamin supplement or to fortify foods, such as bread and cereal, it is referred to as folic acid. Folate is an ingredient needed in DNA and RNA to make new cells and to stop existing cells from mutating into diseases like cancer, and it also helps maintain proper homocysteine levels, which help keep amino acids at optimal levels within the body.
After testing a person’s serum folate levels, if a medical professional discovers a deficiency, a person will be advised to take folic acid supplements. Deficiency has an adverse affect on the body and can impede a child’s growth, or cause anemia, heart palpitations, or heart disease in adults. When levels are too high, however, it can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy. Elevated folate levels may also mask the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which include neuropathy, dementia, and megaloblastic anemia. When these symptoms are hidden and there is a delay in treating them, which may lead to long-term damage.