I did this webinar recently to help refresh on folate metabolism along with the different supplements that are available on the market. I learn some very interesting research that is arising and wanted to share with you.
Folate vs Folic Acid
Folate (vitamin B9) is a water-soluble B vitamin. We as humans are not able to make folate and we store minimum amounts in our bodies, this is why it is an ‘essential’ nutrient that needs to be consumed by the diet. A lot of people tend to use folate and folic acid interchangeably, however, there is a main distinction between the two: folate is the naturally-occurring form while folic acid is the synthetic form.
What is folate necessary for?
- Removal of homocysteine
- High homocysteine levels have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation
- Red blood cell production
- Production for DNA and RNA
- Methylation processes
- Decreasing risk of birth defects
- Decreasing risk of some cancers
- Poor levels of folate are linked to increased cancer risk
What is MTHFR?
The active form of vitamin B9 is known as levomefolic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). After we eat folate or folic acid, the majority is converted into 5-MTHF before it enters the bloodstream, this metabolic process differs slightly between folate and folic acid. Methyltetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is the enzyme that helps to turn folic acid into its active methyl-folate form. About 40% – 60% of the population has a genetic mutation on the gene that creates that MTHFR enzyme. This mutation does not allow for the final step to occur. This means that your body will be less able to use folic acid to benefit your health and can increase your risk of miscarriages, along with many other potential health issues such as fatigue, headaches, anxiety, depression, etc.
Folate, MTHFR and Pregnancy
Folate is well known for helping to decrease the chances of the baby developing birth defects such as neural tube defect; this is because folate is crucial in the baby’s development of their nervous system. This occurs in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before the mother even knows she is pregnant. Therefore, it is important to have enough folate in its active form available to help through this crucial stage of development. Folate is also extremely important for the creation of new red blood cells, so it makes sense as to why it is so important for a woman to need some extra during the early stages of pregnancy on multiple accounts.
We have heard for decades how important it is for women who are wanting to get pregnant take folic acid. This is why the food industry started to fortify foods such as breads and cereals with folic acid! However, this may have not been helping the whole time and we were not sure why? It looks like methylfolate and MTHFR mutations may shed some light on our confusion.
By the 6th to 7th week of pregnancy, a miscarriage can occur. What may be the culprit?
Undiagnosed MTHFR mutations
What if I am not trying to get pregnant? Does this matter as much for me?
The answer is YES!
Folate deficiency can cause:
- Grey hair
- Mouth sores
- Swollen tongue
- Loss of appetite
- Troubles concentrating
So what can I do?
Many doctors have not been trained to look for MTHFR mutations, let alone begin to treat for it. If you suspect that you may have a MTHFR mutation or just want to know where your levels are at, you should discuss with your doctor about doing a test to find out.
Take Home Message:
When eating folate, focus on whole dietary sources and don’t rely so heavily on fortified food items to meet your needs. We need 400 micrograms daily (600 mcg is pregnant, 500 mcg if lactating). Folate is derived from the Latin word “folium”, which means leaf; leafy vegetables are among one of the best sources of folate: Dark Leafy Greens, Asparagus, Broccoli, Citrus Fruits, Beans, Peas and Lentils, Avocado, Okra, Brussels Sprouts
First and foremost, I always recommend checking with your health care provider before starting supplementation. If you are in need for some folate supplementation, look for a high-quality brand and best is the active form, 5-MTHF.