Vitamin B9 made by bacteria can be an alternative to synthetic form

Aiming to expand the options of foods supplemented with folate – also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid -, two members of the Food Research Center (FoRC) of the University of São Paulo (USP) developed products that contain up to 20% of the daily need for this nutrient, but using its natural rather than synthetic form.

FoRC is a FAPESP Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (CEPID) based at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences (FCF-USP).

Excessive consumption of folic acid is associated with some unwanted effects. It can, for example, mask vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to neurological problems and anemia.

“What is described in the literature is that, when consuming the natural forms of the vitamin, this problem does not occur. But the synthetic supplement takes longer to be metabolized, as it needs to pass through the liver to become bioactive”, explains Marcela Albuquerque, post- PhD student at the Food Microbiology Laboratory at FCF-USP and FAPESP scholarship.

To produce vitamin B9, the researchers use strains of lactic acid bacteria that are safe for human consumption and that are already used by the food industry. “After being subjected to certain conditions, depending on the nutrients available in the medium, pH and temperature, bacteria that have genes related to folate biosynthesis can produce the vitamin. Then, we select the strains with higher productivity and apply it to development of a fermented product, such as milk or yogurt”, explains Ana Clara Cucick, doctoral student at FCF-USP.

According to the researcher, many countries have joined mandatory food fortification programs to combat folate deficiency, such as Brazil, for example, where wheat and corn flours are fortified with iron and folic acid to prevent anemia in children and malformations in fetuses.

This strategy brought benefits, such as a reduction of approximately 30% in the occurrence of neural tube diseases in babies, according to a report released in January 2021 by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa). However, it has been the target of concern due to possible side effects arising from excessive intake of folic acid.

In his study, Cucick got a fermented milk that provided 20% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B9 in a 250-milliliter serving. The product was also tested on animals to assess the nutrient’s bioavailability, that is, how much of the vitamin contained in fermented milk could be used by the body. The animals that consumed the food had an increase in red blood cells and hemoglobin, showing that it may be a promising alternative for increasing folate intake.

Albuquerque, on the other hand, developed a fermented soy product that reached 14% of the daily consumption of the vitamin, in addition to containing probiotic microorganisms. The data show that the combination of passion fruit by-product, discarded by the industry, and fructooligosaccharides was able to stimulate the culture of probiotic microorganisms to produce folate. The product was also subjected to gastrointestinal stress in vitro and showed greater folate bioaccessibility compared to controls.

* With information from the FoRC Communication Department.