Folic acid vs Folate

Do you know the difference between the two vitamins above?  Most people commonly interchange these two vitamins, medical professions included, without knowing that there is a small but very significant difference between the two.

Folate is a group of water soluble B vitamins made up of tetrahydrafolates also known as B9.  It is the vitamin that is found naturally in foods such as spinach, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beets, collard greens, kale, asparagus, turnip greens, broccoli, mustard greens, lentils, garbanzo beans, and parsley to name a few.  Folate is necessary during rapid cell division and growth. In fact, pregnancy is known to actually double the need of dietary folates.

Folic Acid is the synthetic form (does not occur naturally) of B9 that is oxidized and found in dietary supplements and food fortification.  According to an article found in pubmed, humans exposure to folic acid was nonexistent until 1943 when it was chemically synthesized and then later introduced as a mandatory additive for food fortification in 1998 to help aid in the decrease of Neural Tube Defects in babies.  Unfortunately, many did not take into account how much processed foods people would eat, and therefore taking a folic acid supplement caused there to be a build up of it in our blood.  This has lead researchers to find many studies linking the build up of unmetabolized (not broken down) folic acid in the blood to an increase in the chance of certain cancers. (more studies here and here and here )

So what is my advice?  Number one, make sure you are eating a healthy diet full of all those delicious dark leafy greens, as you can see cauliflower and beets are also a great addition to add.  Secondly, ditch that folic acid supplement.  You are already getting enough of folic acid in the food fortification process.  Lastly, if you are not pregnant, trying to get pregnant or not breastfeeding, you do not need to be taking a folate supplement.  If you are pregnant, are trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding you should be taking a FOLATE supplement.  You should be getting an average of 800-1200 mcg of folate a day, so depending on your dietary intake I would recommend taking around 600-800 mcg of Folate/day.  Some popular or good brands include Metagenics (we sell this brand at the office), Designs for Health, Solgar, and Pure Encapsulations to name a few.

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