Folic Acid vs. Folate: What Are the Facts?

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When deciding which supplements to take we can run into a lot of confusing information. This is especially true when we want to up our folic acid intake. Getting to the bottom of the folic acid vs folate debate takes some patience, as there are subtle, but key differences between the two. While they are both forms of vitamin B9, they have different effects on different types of people. Regardless of which one you take the health benefits are real and important, but finding out what is best for you is the safest bet no matter who you are. Today we will go over all the important differences and find out which one you should take in my following article titled Folic acid vs folate: what are the key facts?

There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding whether the synthetic version, folic acid, is more harmful than the natural version of folate, especially if you have certain genetic risk factors, like the MTHFR mutation. So, while pretty much everyone agrees that folate is important, the controversy surrounding folate versus folic acid has caused confusion as to which choice is best for the individual. Folic Acid is the form used in many supplements because it’s highly stable and it’s better at entering your intestinal cells than natural Folate, but this is where the Folic Acid upsides end. Once Folic Acid enters a cell, it needs to be converted into 6S-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF) by several key enzymes before your body can use it. The form of folate that’s the easiest for your body to use is the MTHF version. Unlike Folic Acid itself, it doesn’t need to go through enzyme conversion. Plus, it’s the form that works best for those of us with that common MTHFR gene variant.

Ok, but What is folate? Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. Its name is derived from the Latin word “folium,” which means leaf. In fact, leafy vegetables are among the best dietary sources of folate. Folate is a generic name for a group of related compounds with similar nutritional properties. And then what is folic acid? Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid. It’s used in supplements and added to processed food products, such as flour and breakfast cereals. Unlike folate, not all of the folic acid you consume is converted into the active form of vitamin B9 (5-MTHF)  in your digestive system. Instead, it needs to be converted in your liver or other tissues.

Folate is an essential nutrient best known for supporting neural tube development during pregnancy. For non-pregnant women, Folate is still a must-have. It’s involved in multiple life-sustaining processes, including DNA synthesis. Without enough of this nutrient, the neurotransmitters that regulate your mood get lazy. Not enough Folate means not enough red blood cells, which may affect your energy levels. Both men and women should take a folate supplement because even with a healthy diet, you may not be getting enough. The CDC recommends women who plan to become pregnant or who are of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid daily, and everyone else that is not planning on becoming pregnant take half that amount.

The bottom line is that everyone can benefit from a folic acid or folate supplement. But according to my research the one I would recommend is the form of folate that’s the easiest for your body to use: MTHF. Unlike Folic Acid itself, it doesn’t need to go through enzyme conversion. So, eating a healthy diet rich in foods where folate is naturally occurring is the first step, but insuring your body gets the amount you really need makes taking a folate supplement a no-brainer. You can find a good folate or folic acid supplement online or in your local health food or natural medicine store.

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