Folate or Folic Acid?

28 January 2022

Folate or Folic Acid?

January is ​​National Birth Defect Awareness month & also today is the final week of National Folic Acid Awareness Week. This is a crucial B vitamin (B9) that is especially important to women who are either pregnant or may become pregnant.

Folate or Folic acid ... are they one of the same? Although they are often used interchangeably, they are quite different.

  • Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, found in foods like spinach, kale, broccoli, avocado, citrus fruits, eggs and liver
  • Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 and added to foods like flour, breakfast cereals and bread as well as supplements.

Folate is essential for DNA production, correct cell division, activating B12 and supporting the synthesis of the master methyl donor SAMe for healthy mood and joints. In pregnancy, folate and other B vitamins help to reduce the risk of Spina bifida.

Folate from the diet has to jump through a number of hoops (that are enzymes, coded for by genes) to be converted into a usable ACTIVE ⭐️ form - methylfolate (5-MTHF) -  which can only then be used by our cells to perform these functions.

These genes are highly vulnerable to glitches, termed SNPs which impact their efficiency, put another way any SNP along the production line is going to impact getting to the end of the production line.

So, SNPS, environmental factors like poor diet, smoking, chemicals  alcohol (that hampers gene expression) and nutrient depletions, especially if all combined can and do make a significant difference:

  • SNPs on FOLH1 RFC1 or DHFR genes impair ability to absorb and transport folate or folic acid across the gut wall 
  • Inadequate B3, B6 or B2 impairs conversion all the way through the chain of command
  • SNPs on MTHFD1 gene  can slow the conversion of THF to 5,10 Methylene and subsequently impact active 5-MTHF levels 
  • A MTHFR genetic variant (not a fun acronym for motherf***er) is very common and is the gene that helps produce the enzyme that activates the final conversion into the active form methylfolate, MTHF.

So what can you do? There are different ways to optimise your Folate intake and it’s bio availability:

  • Eat your greens: they are rich in natural folate- broccoli, spinach, kale, sprouts
  • Reduce food “fortified” with folic acid such as breakfast cereals & sliced bread - that the body can’t process into methylfolate, and actually jams up the pathway (no pun intended!)
  • Know your genetic vulnerabilities - I of course recommend @LifecodeGX as the numero uno panel, and work with a practitioner that understands these pathways and can support YOUR individual makeup
  • Supplementing with generic folic acid - is at best a long shot. It’s got to jump through an awful lot of hoops, irrespective of any genetic variants along the way, to get to active methylfolate. If the product simply states “Folic acid” it will not be in a bioavailable form.

There are many other enzymes in the folate production process, open to genetic variations, which increase one's susceptibility to low folate levels. And even without genetic mutations these pathways need the rights nutrients (B2, B3, B6, B12, choline, zinc & betaine).

MORE is most definitely not better, slow and steady with any form of supplemental “folate”. Methyltetrahydrofolate is the most active but potent, so always work with a professional  that knows YOUR case and understands nutrigenomics.