Why should I take folate rather than folic acid?

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Folic acid and folate are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different forms of vitamin B9. While they have similar functions in the body, there are some important differences between the two that can impact their effectiveness as a nutritional source. The unfortunate truth, especially in the UK, is that many doctors and midwives are not aware of the differences between folate and folic acid.

Zita West has been an advocate for folate for many years which is why we use folate in our products and why we always encourage others who care for conception and pregnancy to use folate. Read on to find out why its so important that we talk about folate.

Folic Acid vs Folate: The Differences

Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 that is found in most fortified foods and dietary supplements. It is commonly used to fortify grains and cereals in order to increase the average daily intake of vitamin B9 in the population. Folic acid is also added to many generic prenatal vitamins, as it is known to be important for foetal development and in population studies leads to reductions in infants being born with spina bifida. Many of the best selling and doctor recommended preconception and pregnancy vitamins globally contain folic acid and not folate, this is generally because folic acid is a cheaper ingredient.

Folate, on the other hand, is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 that is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits. Unlike folic acid, folate does not need to be converted by the body before it can be used, making it a more efficient and bioavailable source of the vitamin. Some people simply don’t convert folic acid into B9 folate in the way that is expected and there isn’t a reliable way for determining on a large population basis without genetic testing who is and isn’t converting folic acid to B9. Put simply, it’s a bit of a lottery.

Why Take Folate Instead Of Folic Acid?

There are several reasons why folate is a better nutritional source than folic acid. First, some people have a genetic mutation that makes it difficult for their bodies to convert folic acid into the active form of vitamin B9. This can result in a deficiency, even if they are consuming adequate amounts of folic acid. Folate is already in the active form, so it can be easily used by the body.

Second, excessive intake of folic acid can actually mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to neurological problems over time for mother and baby. Folate does not have this effect, as it does not interfere with vitamin B12 metabolism. 

For pregnant women, folate is particularly important. It plays a crucial role in foetal development, particularly in the formation of the neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord. Adequate folate intake before and during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400-800 micrograms of folate per day to help prevent neural tube defects.

While folic acid can be a convenient way to increase your intake of vitamin B9, it is not the ideal nutritional source. Consuming a diet rich in folate-containing foods is a more effective way to ensure that you are getting the active form of the vitamin, which is important for overall health and well-being. As with many things the poorest in our society tend to be most affected by poor nutrition and those who are able to eat a wide variety of good quality fruits and vegetables will rarely be deficient.

Folic Acid vs Folate: The Bottom Line

Bioavailability: Folate is more easily absorbed and utilized by the body due to its metabolism in the small intestine. In contrast, folic acid must be converted in the liver, which can lead to unmetabolised folic acid circulating in the bloodstream, potentially causing health issues.

Genetic variations: Some individuals have genetic variations in the MTHFR gene, which encodes the enzyme responsible for converting folic acid into the active form, L-methylfolate. These variations can lead to reduced enzyme activity, making it more difficult for the body to metabolise folic acid.

Quatrefolic For Fertility

At Zita West we use a biologically available form of folate in our products called Quatrefolic – it out performs folic acid on oral absorption and is approved by the European Food Safety Authority.

We recommend Vitamen for men and Vitafem for women who are trying to conceive. Both of these contain Quatrefolic. Our Inositol & Folate supplement also contains Quatrefolic, as well as myo-inositol and is recommended for those looking to support regular ovulation.

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