I apologize in advance for the dramatic title, but this is a serious issue. It has recently come to my attention the confusion around folic acid vs. folate. Folic Acid is a synthetic form of Vitamin B9, whereas folate is the natural and absorbable form. Most of us think of pregnancy and neural tube defects when we hear the term folic acid. However, Vitamin B9 (along with B12) is so important for many functions in the body. B9 deficiency can cause:
-Elevated homocysteine levels, which is an inflammatory blood marker and “ruffles” linings, such as the arteries and veins. This is a much more accurate predictor of heart disease.
– Alzheimer’s disease and brain shrinkage with age. Folate is also useful for preventing depression, seizure disorders, and brain atrophy.
-Increase in cholesterol levels- Dutch researchers found folate supplementation of 5 mg for 4 weeks improved vessel dilation, which decreases risk of high blood pressure and blood clots.
Because of the well-known effect of B9 on pregnant women and their unborn children, the US Food and Drug Administration ruled that all grain and grain products should be fortified or “enriched” with folic acid and other synthetic vitamins as of January 1, 1998.
However, not all vitamins are created equal. The synthetic form of B9, folic acid, which is in all “enriched” processed food products, such as breakfast cereals and white bread, has been linked to certain kinds of cancers, including lung and colorectal cancer. The benefit of ensuring mothers are getting enough B9 from processed foods outweighs the risk it is putting on the rest of society.
Ideally, fresh, raw, high-quality (organic) dark leafy vegetables and beans are the most ideal way to get enough folate. However, studies have shown that the nutrient content in food has decreased over the past 30 years, so supplementation might be the best option to ensure optimal levels are reached. Just remember that supplements are never an acceptable substitute for regular consumption of high-quality, unprocessed foods.
However, yet again there another consideration to be made. In order for folate to be of use to your body, it must first be activated (methylated) into its biologically active form – L-5-MTHF. This is the form that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier to give you the brain benefits noted. However, nearly half of the population has difficulty converting folic acid into the bioactive form because of a genetic reduction in enzyme activity.
If you taking a B-vitamin supplement, make sure it contains:
- natural folate rather than synthetic folic acid
- a methylated form of both B9 (L-MTHF) and B12 (methylcolbalamin)
- sub-lingual (under the tongue) administration of B12 in case the gut lacks proteins to carry B12 into the blood stream.