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Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia: Causes

Topic Overview

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins. It helps produce red blood cells. Low levels of folic acid (also called folate) in the body decrease production of red blood cells and cause folic acid deficiency anemia.

Causes of folic acid deficiency anemia include:

  • Not eating enough foods that contain folic acid.
    • Unhealthy diets may not have much folic acid.
    • Vegan diets may not include enough folic acid.
    • People who have the eating disorder anorexia nervosa severely limit how much they eat, including those foods that contain folic acid.
  • Having an increased need for folic acid. This might happen with:
    • Pregnancy. Pregnant women need more folic acid to protect their babies from birth defects, such as neural tube defects.
    • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, that use up the body's supply of folic acid.
    • Diseases that cause rapid cell growth, such as leukemia or psoriasis.
    • An increased rate of metabolism, as might happen with an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). This uses up the body's store of folic acid faster than it is absorbed.
  • Not absorbing or retaining folic acid. This can be caused by:
    • Drinking too much alcohol.
    • Having hemodialysis.
    • Having an intestinal problem such as celiac disease.
  • Taking certain medicines, including medicine used to treat cancer.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Joseph O'Donnell, MD - Hematology, Oncology
Last Revised December 18, 2012

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