Folic acid is a member of the vitamin B family. It plays an important role in the synthesis of the amino acids and of components of the nucleic acids. These are essential elements of all cells.
The blood's red and white cells are very sensitive to a folic acid deficiency. Blood disorders are therefore an early sign that the vitamin may be lacking. Megaloblastic anemia and sprue are two such disorders. In the 1930s and 1940s this fact helped attract attention to the newly discovered substance. Folic acid not only reversed certain anemias, but also acted as a growth factor in animals.
Folic acid received its official name in 1941. It was Henry K. Mitchell and two associates who noted that the major source of the compound was green leafy vegetables. They therefore named it for folium, the Latin word for leaf.
In 1945, Robert Angier (1917—) and his coworkers at Lederle Laboratories identified the structure of folic acid and synthesized it.