While shopping for supplements or simply browsing your local grocery store, you may come across the words “folate” or “folic acid.” What are folate and folic acid, and do you know the difference between the two? Folate is the general term that refers to both natural folates found in food and folic acid—the synthetic, man-made form—used in supplements and fortified foods. Also known as Vitamin B-9, folate is a water-soluble vitamin that belongs to the B-Vitamin complex. Our bodies do not make folate so we must get it from the foods we eat or the supplements we take. So what is the best way to get folate? Should we be taking folate or folic acid or both? Read on to find out all the answers to these questions and more!
Benefits of folate
- Supports mental health
- Metabolizes amino acids.
- Helps form red and white blood cells and platelets
- Aids neurotransmitter production
- Reduces the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy
- Assists in methylation—a process responsible for a number of functions in the body.
Where to find folate in food
- Beans: lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas
- Green Leafy Veggies: asparagus, broccoli, okra, brussel sprouts and spinach
- Juices: orange and tomato juice.
- Fortified Foods: spaghetti, cereals, white rice, and bread.
How much folate should you take?
- The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for folate from the food you eat and the supplements you take in micrograms/day are as follows:
||19 years and older
What’s in your folate supplements?
- Folic Acid: A man-made form of folate not found naturally in foods. Though the body absorbs it well, it does not get used to its full potential. For maximum potency, folic acid needs to be absorbed and then transported through our blood via proteins to a receptor that allows it to enter our cells. Once inside the cell, folic acid needs to be converted to its active form to reap all the benefits mentioned above. Too much folic acid that isn’t utilized has the potential to block the natural form from getting into the cells.
- Folinic Acid: A natural form of folate that is readily converted by the body into its active form. Plays a role in DNA-based productions.
- Methylfolate: This has a variety of names including L-5-Methylfolate, L-Methylfolate, Methylfolate, 5-MTHF and others. Like folinic acid, this a natural form of folate that can be readily used by the body. Methylfolate supports methylation—a process responsible for turning your genes on and off, building neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine), building immune cells, energy production, preventing hormone imbalances, managing your stress response and a host of other functions.
Folate and pregnancy
Folate deficiencies during pregnancy have been associated with abnormalities in both the mother and baby, so adequate folate intake is necessary for healthy growth and development, especially of the neural tube where the brain and spinal cord form. Folate helps decrease the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus and may help prevent anemia and peripheral neuropathy in the expecting mom. Because the neural tube develops very early on in pregnancy, it’s important to make sure you start taking folate supplements before you even start trying to conceive. On top of neural tube defects, folate during pregnancy appears to also be beneficial in the prevention of congenital heart disease and oral clefts such as cleft lip and cleft palate.
Important tips about folate
- A deficiency in folate may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- The symptoms of folate deficiency are very subtle. You may see signs of Anemia, which can occur due to folate deficiency. Anemia may present as pale skin, shortness of breath, persistent fatigue, weakness and lethargy.
- Folate works in conjunction with B12. So if you believe you are deficient in either, taking them together may bring better results.
- Extensive cooking may destroy 50-95% of the folate in food.
- New research has shown that some individuals may have antibodies that can either bind or block the folate receptor, which prevents folate from entering the cell.
- Certain health conditions such as alcoholism or inflammatory bowel diseases can cause a folate deficiency.
*Disclaimer* There is a lot to understand about the different forms of folate and how they work in the body. Make sure to speak with your health care provider before starting a folate or any other supplements, as side effects and interactions may occur!