Folic Acid vs Folate
What’s the big deal – and why you need to know about this even if your patient doesn’t have MTHFR gene mutations.
Pregnant women, and women who are trying to conceive are recommended to take supplemental folate. Almost all fertility patients are taking a folate supplement of some sort. But are they taking the best form of folate?
Folate (vitamin B9) is one of the key ingredients needed for the methylation cycle, which produces methyl groups for many processes in the body. Methylation is required for DNA synthesis, cell repair, neurotransmitter production, formation of white and red blood cells, and the formation of many methyl transferase enzymes for the breakdown of various compounds in the body such as hormones, histamine, and detoxification of heavy metals, chemicals and toxins.
Methylation is really important.
If methylation doesn’t work properly your body can quickly become overwhelmed with a buildup of substances that can’t be properly processed. The body can also fall into a state of disrepair with cell repair and DNA synthesis no longer working properly – leaving the body vulnerable to aging, and at higher risk of tumours, cysts, lumps (including cancer).
There are various genes that are needed for the absorption and processing of folate, many of them have their effects blocked by (synthetic) folic acid.
Folate: umbrella term for vitamin b9 in all its various forms
Folic acid: form of vitamin B9 that supports DNA synthesis, RBC and WBC production, cell repair, hair skin & nail production etc. It is synthesised by the body from dietary folate, and also available in a supplement form. It nourishes qi and blood in TCM terms.
Methylfolate (5MTHF): form of vitamin B9 that supports methylation, detoxification, breakdown of hormones, neurotransmitters, chemicals etc. It is synthesised by the body from dietary folate, and also available in supplement form. It is a qi/blood mover in TCM terms
Folic acid: the synthetic form of vitamin b9 is metabolised poorly by all people, not just those with MTHFR gene mutations. It blocks the effects of SLC19a1 gene, DHFR gene, and MTHFR gene meaning that it prevents absorption and proper utilisation of folate, and hence blocks proper DNA synthesis and methylation.
In Australia, and most western countries, there are regulations that require the addition of FOLIC ACID into all non organic white flour. It’s not going to be on the label – but it’s in there. FOLIC ACID is also added to many foods – infant formula, breakfast cereals, and other “fortified” foods, meaning that a person’s daily exposure to this compound that interferes with normal detoxification and DNA synthesis can be much higher than they may realise. Of course, most multivitamins, and most B complex vitamins will also contain FOLIC ACID rather than the useful forms of folinic acid or 5MTHF.
This is a problem for all people. You really want your DNA synthesis to be happening properly. You also really want your methylation and detoxification to be happening properly – especially in today’s day and age.
Folinic acid is an even bigger problem for those who have a mutation on any of the above genes (SLC19a1, DHFR, MTHFR) because they already have compromised gene function.
I question all my patients about their intake of folic acid. From supplements, and also from food. Especially pregnant women and those trying to conceive. There is a lot of misinformation and old information about folic acid out there, medical guidelines still say to give folic acid, a lot of doctors are still giving mega doses of folic acid to women trying to conceive, and a lot of supplement companies are still trying to sell their folic acid products and are giving misinformation about the safety of folic acid.
Unfortunately the literature is still confusing, and the terms folic acid and folate are still used interchangeably, making it difficult to get the right information. Many, many practitioners are still confused about the difference between folate and folic acid. I wasn’t so sure either until just a couple of years ago.
In summary: FOLIC ACID = BAD. Avoid it at all costs.
Good folate supplements:
Folinic acid: DNA synthesis, cell repair (nourish qi and blood)
5MTHF/methylfolate: Methylation, detoxification (move qi and blood)