Folic acid and folate -- two totally different forms of the essential vitamin B9 -- are often used interchangeably so frequently that most people tend to assume that they’re the same thing.
In fact, even many medical pros remain unaware that folic acid and folate have vastly different paths in the body, often arguing that they are essentially the same nutrient.
While folic acid is frequently considered to be a supplemental form of folate, there is an important distinction between these two different compounds. For ladies past childbearing age and for gentlemen in general, excessive doses of the synthetic form of this nutrient are not exactly necessary -- and, in some cases, may even be harmful.
So, what’s the difference between folic acid and folate, you ask? We’ll tell you! Read on to learn everything you need to know about these two essential nutrients.
What’s the Difference Between Folic Acid and Folate?
Simply put, folate is the naturally occurring and metabolically active form of vitamin B9. It’s naturally present in various foods such as dark leafy veggies, avocados, asparagus, liver, and legumes.
Alternatively, folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, commonly found in many popular multivitamins, certain pharmaceuticals, and fortified foods.
In order for your body to benefit from folic acid, it first has to convert the nutrient to the metabolically active form of folate known as L-methylfolate. Most naturally occurring food sources of folate are already in this active form.
What Does Folate Do?
Folate is important for many reasons. For starters, it functions as a coenzyme, meaning it helps other enzymes in your body carry out important jobs.
For instance, folate helps convert a compound called homocysteine to an essential amino acid called methionine. Without enough folate, homocysteine will become elevated. And high levels of homocysteine have been linked to recurrent miscarriages and infertility -- not good by any means! In fact, high homocysteine levels have been found in a whopping 25 percent of women with unexplained, early miscarriages. Ladies with PCOS are also more likely to have elevated homocysteine levels.
Among other things, folate is also crucial for red and white blood cell production as well as heme production -- the iron-rich molecule attached to red blood cells. This is why a folate deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why folate is so crucial for women’s health! It helps break down hormones, affects our moods, aids in detoxification, promotes a healthy pregnancy, and so much more.
What Exactly is Folic Acid?
In a nutshell, folic acid is the human-made form of vitamin B9.
It has a molecular structure that is nearly identical to folate and is used to fortify foods, and is found in many supplements -- particularly prenatal supplements. This is because folic acid is molecularly stable.
However, for many ladies, folic acid is much more difficult to absorb, and in recent years, increasing evidence of the advantages of the active form of folate over the synthetic form has come to light.
Scientists have learned quite a bit about folate and folic acid over the years. And learning about the differences can have a major impact on how well the body can process and use these different forms.
You see, unlike folate, not all of the folic acid you consume is converted into the active form in your digestive system.
This has caused concern that taking very high doses of folic acid may cause unmetabolized folic acid to quickly build up in your bloodstream, and according to several studies, elevated levels of unmetabolized folic acid may have some pretty harsh health effects, such as:
- Increased risk of cancer. High levels of unmetabolized folic acid have been linked to an increased risk for cancer. However, studies are still ongoing, and there is no evidence proving that unmetabolized folic acid plays a direct role… yet.
- Undetected B12 deficiency. Among the elderly, high levels of folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. And unfortunately, an untreated B12 deficiency may increase risk of dementia as well as impair nerve function.
Even a tiny daily dose of 400 mcg may cause unmetabolized folic acid to build up in your bloodstream -- kind of scary when you really think about it!
Although high folic acid intake is most definitely a concern, the health implications are not yet “crystal-clear,” and further studies are needed.
Okay, So Why the Heck is Folic Acid in Most Multivitamins?
Trust us when we say we understand your frustration. Knowing how dangerous folic acid can be, why in the world are manufacturers putting it in their supplements?!
One word: cost.
Unfortunately, many supplement manufacturers formulate their products with the least expensive forms of vitamins in mind. Folic acid tends to be much cheaper to put into a vitamin supplement than the active form -- thus, you’ll often see folic acid in most conventional mutis and prenatal vitamins.
What’s the Solution?
Obviously, folate is important. Your body needs it to make the all-important DNA and other genetic material, and it’s also necessary for your cells to divide. Additionally, it’s particularly important to get enough folate during pregnancy because, without it, a folate deficiency can lead to neural tube irregularities, such as anencephaly and spina bifida -- both of which are not good by any means!
But with so many supplements being made with folic acid, it can be tough to get the nutrients your body craves without the risks of unmetabolized folic acid building up in your bloodstream.
Thankfully, taking a multi or prenatal vitamin with methylfolate may be much more beneficial than taking one with folic acid.
What Exactly is Methylfolate?
The recap from a little earlier, methylfolate is the folate form most naturally preferred by the body, so much that the intestinal lining has “transport proteins” that bind to it and selectively absorb it into the blood. Similar proteins also move methylfolate from the circulation into the brain tissue.
But methylfolate utilization can be blocked by the folic acid coming from fortified foods or cheaply formulated dietary supplements. You see, the truth is that folic acid is not just poorly effective --- it actually interferes with the enzymes that are tasked with using methylfolate and the other folates coming from our foods. When you really think about it, folic acid consumption is a serious health issue.
Here are a few of the top health benefits of methylfolate:
- Clinically proven to support healthy mood, memory, and other cognitive functions and behavior.
- Fundamental to the renewal, growth, and total functioning of our tissues, cells, and organs.
- Essential for our brain to make the key neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
- Promotes our brain’s healthy production of the major sleep hormone melatonin.
- Enhances the clinically proven mood benefits of S-adenosylmethionine.
- Promotes healthy pregnancy and birth outcomes.
- Enhances the body’s regulation of homocysteine -- a potentially toxic human metabolic byproduct.
Best Prenatal Vitamin With Methylfolate
Whether you’re expecting or planning to have a little one, it’s of the utmost importance that you get proper nutrition, and you especially have to ensure you’re getting sufficient usable folate!
Getting methylfolate from a top-notch prenatal supplement like Baby Love™ will help to make sure you can meet your growing bundle of joy’s nutritional needs -- and yours, as well. The baby’s brain and heart are already forming just six weeks after conception, and a mama who is low on folate and becomes pregnant may be at a health disadvantage for her pregnancy before she even knows she has a bun in the oven!
Since methylfolate is essential for fetal development, it’s recommended for all women of reproductive age to take Baby Love before, during, and after pregnancy. Baby Love will not only help to decrease the risk of the most preventable birth defect that affects the brain and spine, but it will also help with unpleasant symptoms that are common in the first trimester -- like morning sickness.
Baby Love is unique because it provides essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy baby and has nutraceuticals that help with common discomforts many women experience during pregnancy, making it the ultimate supplement for any expecting mother.
A Final Word
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 in food, while folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form.
Folate is a particularly important nutrient as a prenatal vitamin because it can help immensely to reduce the risk of easily prevented tube defects in a developing baby. In addition to its crucial role in pregnancy, folate contributes to normal red blood cell production, supports normal immune function, and so much more.
Folic acid, however, has been linked with some pretty terrible side effects, so it’s best to be avoided at all costs. Instead, reach for a supplement that includes L-methylfolate as this provides folate in its bioavailable form. Not sure where to look? Check out Love Wellness!
Love Wellness takes a sensible approach to self-care that’s body-positive, based in science, and made with what you want in mind. Every product is made with love and clean ingredients to support specific self-care issues.