WHAT IS FOLIC ACID? (FOLATE)
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate or vitamin B9. Folic acid is synthetic, which must be converted to an active form before your body can use it. Folic acid does not occur naturally in foods. You will find folic acid being added to supplements and refined grain products quite often, such as cereals and bread. Folic acid is the main subject of current nutritional research, because each person’s genetics are different, which affects the speed at which conversion takes place.
Folic acid must be converted into active vitamin B9, which is an enzyme known as 5-MTHF, in order for your body to use it. Genetic mutations are present in some people, which causes their MTHFR enzymes to convert less of their folic acid to 5-MTHF. This generally causes a build up in their blood, which causes health issues. The health issues caused by an abundance of MTHFR include reduced brain function, rapid growth of pre-existing cancers, and poor immunity. People with MTHFR issues may want to use supplements that have active 5-MTHF, rather than consuming large amounts of folic acid.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOLATE AND FOLIC ACID?
Let’s start by defining what folate is, then talk about the differences. Folate is a nutrient, also known as vitamin B9. Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and fruits. Some of the fruits which contain folate include strawberries, bananas, melons, lemons, and oranges. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, whereas folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9. The main difference is how a person’s body reacts to folic acid, versus folate. Folate doesn’t need to be changed, in order for your body to absorb it. Because it’s a natural nutrient, it’s much easier on your body. That doesn’t mean that folic acid is bad for you, but given the choice between natural and synthetic, I always recommend all natural. Mayo Clinic recommends adults consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate/folic acid per day. They also recommend women who are planning pregnancy consume 400-800 micrograms (mcg) per day.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TAKING FOLIC ACID?
1. Folate aids in the production of red blood cells. Being folate is required for red blood cell division and replication, a deficiency of folate can cause megaloblastic anemia. Megaloblastic anemia is a condition where fewer and larger red blood cells are present in the body. Folic acid treatments are known to reverse megaloblastic anemia.
2. Folate is also well known for supporting pregnancy and healthy fetal development. Because folate aids in the production of red blood cells and promotes cell growth, it also plays a critical role during the embryonic phase of fetal development. Clinical studies have shown that taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy, reduce the risks of neural tube defects (NTD) by up to 50-60%. Neural tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida. Studies have also shown that taking folic acid minimizes the risk of cleft lips, heart defects, and other abnormalities.
3. Folate has been known to promote fertility in men and women. Follicular fluid folate concentrations are used in women who are going through infertility treatment, to improve oocyte qualities, mature oocyte yields, and higher fertilization rates. For men, folic acid and zinc treatments have led to a 74% increase in sperm count, with an added bonus of lower frequencies of abnormal sperm, which have been known to interfere with conception.
4. Folate is a natural antidepressant, due to folate being involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine. Studies have established that an imbalance of dopamine and serotonin leads to the development of anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that depressed patients generally have lower levels of folate, and increasing folate levels in people with eating disorders led to significant improvements in their symptoms of depression.
5. Folate “may” reduce the risk of cancer. This is a tricky one. Folate rich diets have been found to reduce the risk of lung, colon, esophageal, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Because folate plays a huge role in DNA repair, stability, and synthesis, it is also essential for nucleic acid formation. Low levels of folate are also associated with certain types of cancer. However, excess folic acid has been shown to accelerate tumor growth in cancer patients.
6. Folate enhances brain function. Folate is critical for brain development. It has also been found to be associated with cerebral cortex degeneration, which is the area of the brain which coordinates memory and learning. Being folate is a factor in converting homocysteine to methionine, which are toxicities linked to conditions such as stroke, epileptic seizures, and Alzheimer’s, proper folate levels have been found to reduce all three health issues. Folic supplementation has shown to improve short-term memory and IQ scores.
7. Folate may prevent heart disease, by reducing homocysteine concentrations in the blook, which are known to cause heart disease and hardening of arteries. High-dose folic acid supplementation has been proven to be effective to reduce incidences of strokes and heart attacks in men.
8. Folate has been proven to improve Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children in development studies have shown a correlation between prenatal folic acid levels, and the risk of social problems, language delay, and autism. Further, it has shown deficiencies increase the risks of neurodevelopmental defects, such as schizophrenia and autism.