You’ve likely heard about folic acid, which is a form of folate, an essential B vitamin. It plays a role in healthy pregnancies and preventing neural tube defects. This article explains the difference between folic acid and folate, and offers the most up to date research on the two.
What are Folic Acid and Folate?
Folate is vitamin B9. There are many forms of folate, which we list later, but one in particular is man-made: folic acid.
- Folic Acid: A synthetic form of folate. Added to foods but not naturally in them. It must transform in the body before the body can use it. Found in many fortified foods like breads, cereals, grain products, protein powders and supplements (especially prenatal vitamins).
- Methylfolate: A real form of folate. The word folate comes from foliage, which are leafy greens. It means food! Methylfolate is used directly by the body. It’s found in real foods like dark leafy greens, legumes, certain brands of protein powders and supplements.
What Does Folate Do?
Triggers many different pathways and functions. A critical nutrient for optimal health! Folate supports the following:
- Red blood cell, white blood cell, platelet production
- DNA production
- Methylation (which relates to detoxification, immune system function and so much more)
- Energy production (ATP)
Folate VS Folic Acid
We covered the difference between folate and folic acid. But why does that really matter? Well, for starters, we’re not all capable of converting folic acid efficiently. In the blood, methyl-folate (not folic acid) is the main circulating form of folate (1). Folic acid must be transformed in the body before it can be used. This transformation occurs through a multi-step process with several genes. While many people give the MTHFR gene the credit for folic acid conversion, there are many involved. Our personal genes affect conversions because they might be slow. In fact, one specific gene called DHFR is slow in humans, but fast in rats. Unfortunately, most studies investigating folic acid safety are done on rats. (Yes, the ones with a fast DHFR), so they’re not good indicators for humans. (3-4).
The result of a slowed conversion leads to un-metabolized folic acid. This creates oxidative stress. Oxidation ages and damages our cells. Think a browning apple or rusting iron, but in your body. According to a 2015 study, un-metabolized folic acid is found in nearly all serum blood samples in the U.S (1). This comes from all the fortified products and supplements we consume.
Spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, mustard greens, arugula
In the 131 Method, we always recommend food first, but sometimes, supplements are helpful and necessary. If you decide to supplement, make sure you’re getting the right form. Always check the label on the back of the bottle.
- Folic Acid
- Opt for:
- Methyl MTHF
- Methyl Folate
- Folinic Acid
Final Recommendations on Folic Acid and Folate:
- Eat plenty of dark leafy greens for the food source of methylfolate.
- Avoid folic acid supplements and fortified foods (check your labels).
- If supplementation is necessary, opt for a form from the list above.
- Folate is important for fetal growth and development. Ensure you take the right prenatal vitamin! Keep the unborn babies healthy!