You’ve probably heard of the importance of folate or folic acid in pregnancy. Although often used interchangeably, it is important to know that folic acid and folate are not the same. So, what exactly is the difference?
Difference between folate and folic acid
Folate, also known as Vitamin B9 is the active form of the water-soluble vitamin. It is found in many yummy foods including dark leafy greens, liver, legumes, and eggs. Folate plays an important role in fertility and pregnancy as it is required for the health of our eggs, promotes DNA production, and helps reduce the risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects in pregnancy.
Folic acid on the other hand, is the synthetic version of folate which requires extra processing to ensure the body can effectively absorb and use it. This means folic acid only works as it should once our bodies are able to make this processing happen, which does not occur for everyone. In fact, 1 in 3 women struggle with this conversion due to a genetic variation known as the MTHFR gene. In the case of a MTHFR mutation, the MTHFR gene does not work properly, and the body cannot process folic acid properly. This can result in an excess of inactive folate sitting in the bloodstream and can even lead to immune dysfunction, increased homocysteine levels and pregnancy complications.
So, what is better?
If you don’t have issues with absorption, and you are consuming within the correct dosage, folic acid may be fine for you. Nonetheless, to reduce your risk of any health consequences caused by unabsorbed folic acid, it is best to stick to sourcing your folate from whole (unfortified) foods. When choosing your pregnancy prenatal, ensure that it contains the active form of folate. This way you know your body can utilise the folate and reduce the risk of build-up of unmetabolized synthetic folic acid. Our favourite pregnancy prenatal vitamin is the EverNatal from the Natal Naturopath which contains the active methyl-folate.
If you have MTHFR Gene mutations, it will be necessary for you to supplement with an activated form of Folate (5-MTHF). It’s important to note that most over-the-counter preconception products, including arguably the most popular, Elevit, use the inactivated folic acid. This is why it is so important to speak with your Naturopath or health practitioner before starting your pregnancy prenatal.