Folate vs. Folic Acid


Do you know the difference between folic acid and folate? Let’s take a step back first and discuss what folate actual is. Folate is a B vitamin that plays an important role in the prevention of neural tube defects before birth and is required for the synthesis of DNA replication. Folate is found in greens, seeds, and many fruits and vegetables. Chronic folate deficiency can lead to anemia in children and adults. Large amounts of folate can prevent cervical dysplasia, colorectal cancer, and depression. 

Now enter folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that increases the bioavailability of actual folate. Folic acid is added to most grains and MANY multivitamins and B complex vitamins. If it’s synthetic, then can too much be harmful to our health?  

There’s evidence and studies that prove that too much folic acid may block the action of the natural form of the vitamin. Studies also show that too much folic acid may not protect us from heart disease (as it was once advertised) and had NO effect on the number of heart attacks or death in people taking folic acid within these clinical trials. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2008).

Folic acid has definitely lowered the number of birth defects, but not by enough. ‘While folic acid looks similar to natural folate, it is not close enough. Synthetic folic acid is lacking the body’s most fundamental biochemical compound – a methyl group.’ (Dr. Ben Lynch, 2019). This can lead to a masked B12 deficiency and reduces the binding process of active actual folate. When lots of folic acid is consumed, some of this folic acid is not metabolize and can circulate in the blood as “unmetabolized folic acid.” This can negatively affect multiple biochemical processes in the body. 

Studies also show that overconsumption of folic acid from fortified and processed foods while pregnant can have an effect on whether a child develops a food allergy (American academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology). *There is more research that is being developed whether folic acid levels should be reduced in certain cases while pregnant or nursing. 

So, moral of the story is to be careful when consuming excess folic acid and eat more FOLATE-rich foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fruits. Also, please read labels on your multivitamins carefully, eat whole foods, less processed foods fortified with folic acid, and less processed grains. 

For more questions on this topic, ask me a question below! 

References

Folic acid: too much of a good thing? (2008). Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Folic_acid_Too_much_of_a_good_thing

Lynch, B. (2019). Folic acid side effects. https://www.drbenlynch.com/folic-acid-side-effects/

Folic acid exposure in utero is associated with development of food allergy. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/news-releases/folic-acid?fbclid=IwAR3W_JLhAt8LbfgzP3H3UxwED1O_qj0hxQcxL8B-YgoPZn_crNjw3T0WH10



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