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When we hear the words folate or folic acid, many of us think first of pregnancy. It’s a vitamin specifically mentioned during pregnancy because of the important role it plays in preventing serious complications. But it actually does a lot more! Plus, we all need it, whether pregnant or not. So, let’s talk about it.

Folate vs. Folic Acid

First, let’s distinguish between the words folate and folic acid. They are often used interchangeably, but their differences are really important. Folate is a B-Vitamin found naturally in the body and many foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form often found in supplements and fortified foods.

What does it do?

Folate plays an important role in DNA metabolism as well as the metabolism of several amino acids. For example, folate is required in the synthesis of methionine from homocysteine. So if you don’t have enough folate, you may end up with an excess of homocysteine, which could lead to several chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Folate Deficiency

Early signs of folate deficiency show in the blood, through things like elevated levels of homocysteine, hypersegmented white blood cells, and a decrease in the number of large red blood cells. Eventually these issues lead to fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Deficiency is usually caused by an insufficiency in the diet, but may also be caused by alcoholism, or the use of certain medications. Those who are pregnant or have cancer need more folate.

MTHFR Gene Mutation

Depending on the population, an estimated 50% of people could have a genetic mutation in the MTHFR gene. These people need a higher amount of folate. However, this mutation prevents their body from processing folic acid into a usable form, leading it to accumulate as a build-up of toxins throughout the body as well as a deficiency in actual folate. For this reason, it is important that people with this mutation avoid folic acid and any foods that have been fortified with it, and instead consume methylfolate. 

Benefits of Getting Enough Folate

Pregnancy

As mentioned before, folate is very important during the early stages of pregnancy, especially between days 21 and 27 post-conception. Without adequate folate during this time, neural tube defects (such as anencephaly or spina bifida) are more likely. Since many women do not even know they are pregnant at this point, it is important to consume enough dietary folate on a regular basis if there is even a chance of pregnancy. Adequate folate may also play a role in preventing certain heart defects and limb malformations, premature delivery, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia, and placental abruption.

Cardiovascular Health

You may recall that folate deficiency can lead to elevated levels of homocysteine. It is pretty well established that elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. A long-term study in Finland found that those who consumed the most dietary folate had a 55% lower risk of heart attack or other similar acute heart issue compared to those eating the least folate.

Cancer

Since folate plays such an important role in DNA and RNA synthesis, damage to DNA and the resulting possible cancers are thought to be impacted by folate insufficiency. According to observational studies, cancers of the cervix, colon, rectum, lung, esophagus, brain, pancreas, and breast are all associated with low folate levels. Additionally, the consumption of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is consistently associated with decreased risk of cancer. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with folate, and this is thought to be one of the contributing factors to their anticarcinogenic effects.

Food Sources of Folate

Processed grains and foods that have been fortified contain folic acid. However, if you’re looking for actual folate, consider adding more lentils, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach, oranges, and other leafy greens and citrus fruits to your diet.

Supplements

Check the labels of your supplements to see if they contain folic acid or methylfolate. There are supplements out there with real folate. I’m taking one right now from Premier Research Labs called Phyto Methylation. I’ll be doing my blood work again in a few months so I’ll let you know what comes of it. Others from Premier Research Labs include Complete B and Max B-ND. BioLight products (which I talked about last week) include Nervous System SRF, B Natural, and Lift Rx. 

If you are a QEST4 practitioner and want an account with Premier Research Labs or BioLight, submit a ticket for a link that will get you automatically approved. If you are not a QEST4 practitioner, but are a professional provider, you can get an account with BioLight at the following affiliate link (you will need to submit credentials upon request for your account to be approved): https://www.biolightstore.com/register.asp?cg=23

Resources:

Higdon, Jane and Victoria J. Drake, “An Evidence-based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals,” 2nd Edition, 2012

Folic Acid – Why You Should Avoid it With a MTHFR Mutation – MTHFR Doctors

About the author

Hey! My name is Brittan and I live in Utah with my husband and one adorable toddler. I love finding holistic and natural ways to care for myself and my family. I particularly enjoy learning about nutrition, herbal medicine, the emotional, spiritual, and energetic aspects of health, and anything else that contributes to complete wellness. Thanks for joining me!

I am not a doctor. Everything I write about is from my personal experience and perspective. Consult a physician if you have questions specific to your health.

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