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Folate vs Folic Acid

Have you heard of folate?

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 whereas folic acid is the man-made form of folate.

Folate is found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas and nuts and fruits such as oranges, lemons, bananas, melons and strawberries.

Folic acid is found in vitamins and fortified food products, such as pasta and cereals. Folate is converted by the digestive system into the biological active form of vitamin B9-5-MTHF before entering the bloodstream. This is different for folic acid as not all folic acid that we eat is converted into the active form of vitamin B9-5-MTHF.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorised folic acid as the only type of vitamin B9 that has been shown to lower the risk of neural tube abnormalities in foetuses. This is the reason why people trying to conceive or who are already pregnant are recommended to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day!

Health benefits of folate

Folic acid supplements:

  • prevent birth defects of the neural tube

  • lower levels of the amino acid homocysteine (linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke)

  • prevent folate deficiency which has a wide range of symptoms which include muscle weakness, fatigue, mouth ulcers, vision problems and "pins and needles"

Folate may also reduce the risk of dementia and certain cancers as there is a correlation between low folate and increased risk of cancers such as breast, lung and stomach cancers.

What about too high levels of folate

High levels of folate may:

  • mask vitamin B12 deficiency leading to irreversible consequences

  • increase the risk of colorectal cancer as studies have shown folic acid intake increases the progression of these cells.

  • affect the immune system and impair cognitive function in older adults, if the folic acid is not metabolised

  • negatively interact with medications such as epilepsy medications, methotrexate, and sulfasalazine.

Blog written by Caroline Lina Johnson-Mendy MMedSci

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