Folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably and even many doctors will not be able to tell you the difference if you ask.
The body needs folate, especially during pregnancy and folate is the form found in foods. You’ll often hear that folic acid is simply the supplemental form of folate, but there are some key differences...
Avoid products that say “folic acid” on the label. Most health food stores will have quality brands of prenatal and multi-vitamins that have folate instead of folic acid. If choosing to supplement look for organic to avoid GMOs. If you take a multi-vitamin make sure to check the label because most multi-viatmins contain folic acid and not folate.
You may have heard that women need folate before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. This is true. Folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, helps produce DNA and form healthy new cells, which is why it’s especially important for mothers-to-be. We all need folate, for this reason and because, with vitamin B12, folate helps create normal red blood cells. We get two forms of folate in our diet: the naturally occurring form in foods, known as food folate, and folic acid, the form used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.
If you’re planning a pregnancy or you’re already pregnant, chances are your doctor told you to take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
Yet new research shows that this recommendation may not be a one-size-fits-all approach and may increase the chances that your baby could be born with birth defects.
Studies have shown that beginning folic acid supplementation before conception significantly reduces the incidence of birth defects known as neural tube defects (malformations of the spine and brain) such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Folic acid supplements are routinely prescribed for women who may become pregnant.
Did the FDA’s attempt to reduce birth defects have unintended consequences?
Many health professionals would even argue that folate and folic acid are essentially the same nutrient. While folic acid is often considered to be a supplemental form of folate, there is an important distinction between these two different compounds. For women past childbearing age, and for men in general, excessive doses of the synthetic form of this nutrient are not necessary, and may even be harmful.
Folic acid in supplements and fortified foods might exacerbate vitamin B12 deficiency, which has been linked to cognitive decline in older adults.
The fortification of our food supply with folic acid in 1998 reduced spina bifida birth defects by 19 percent. A good thing. But by some estimates it may have caused an additional 15,000 cancers deaths a year. Oops. Now what?
The FFAC is a coalition of public and private agencies and businesses from around Florida who are working together to decrease the incidence of neural tube defects by encouraging women of childbearing age to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily prior to pregnancy. The FFAC also promotes the recommended RDA intake of folate for all persons as a strategy for promoting overall good health.
Folate is a generic term referring to both natural folates in food and folic acid, the synthetic form used in supplements and fortified food. Folate is critical in the metabolism of nucleic acid precursors and several amino acids, as well as in methylation reactions.
Folic acid supplements are suggested for use in women of childbearing age in order to prevent neural tube defects. Neural tube defect risk appears to have decreased in many countries since folic acid fortification of flour and cereals.
Folic acid is also of interest with respect to cognitive enhancement, cancer, psychiatric illnesses, and cardiovascular conditions, although conclusions may not be drawn for many of these uses at this time. Some concern exists with respect to increased folic acid intake masking symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, especially in the elderly population.
Foods with folic acid in them include
•Leafy green vegetables
•Dried beans, peas, and nuts
•Enriched breads, cereals and other grain products
If you don't get enough folic acid from the foods you eat, you can also take it as a dietary supplement.
Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group vitamins.
Folic acid has several important functions. For example, it:
•works together with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells
•helps to reduce the risk of central nervous system defects, such as spina bifida, in unborn babies
Folic acid may produce a haematological response in vitamin B12 deficiency but may aggravate the neuropathy and also precipitate subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord. Large doses of folic acid alone should therefore not be used to treat megaloblastic anaemia unless the serum vitamin B12 level is known to be normal.
Your source for the latest research news.
Arguably, no conventional nutrient has undergone as much of a research renaissance in recent years as folate...If the word folate sounds like foliage to you, this is not an accident. The words share a common root (the Latin word folium, meaning "leaf"), which helps remind us that green plant foods can be among the richest sources of folate.