Folic and Folate Acid
Folates are a group of B-vitamins naturally found in some foods. They are responsible for supplying the body with chemically simple methyl groups, and are extremely vital in maintaining our health not matter our age. The body needs folates but can’t create them from scratch, and unfortunately, although folates are present in some foods, it’s often in such low amounts that most people’s diets do not include enough. For this reason, many foods are fortified with folic acid, the manmade form of folates, and a small number of supplements also contain the molecule.
Unfortunately the form of FA typically included in food and supplements isn’t very effective, and can actually have adverse effects. Folates are most active when converted into methylfolate, or methyltetrahydrofolate, and being most active also means they’re most effective, as the body can process it more readily. To ensure your body maintains healthy levels of folates, try sticking to foods non-fortified with folic acid, and take supplements that contain methylfolate (methyltetrahydrofolate). In addition there are several lifestyle factors that you can avoid to further safeguard your folate levels.
Factors That Affect Folate Levels
For many people, lifestyle factors, popularly used medications, and/or common gene mutations can all deplete folate stores. Folate levels are at high risk of being drained by many of the common pleasures we chose to consume. This includes alcohol consumption and smoking, as well as the overuse of medications such as antacids, antibiotics, painkillers, anticonvulsants, SSRI psychotherapeutics, estrogen replacement therapy, oral contraceptives and some diuretics.
Liver or kidney disease, poor diet, stomach problems and digestion issues can also lead to a decrease in the body’s folate stores, and low levels of folate can lead to certain types of anemia.
Pregnancy also increases the demand for folate stores due to the increasing needs of the developing baby. Receiving inadequate amounts of folic acid through pregnancy also prevents certain health conditions such as infant spinal cord birth defects.
Different Forms Of Folates
The term folate refers to a family of molecules with the similar functions. There are several different forms we can consume, however, not all are made equal and not all offer the same benefits.
Folic acid (FA), such as L-methylfolate and levomefolate, is often used to fortify foods, and/or included in supplements designed to increase folate levels. However, the type of folic acid included in these products isn’t the most efficient, it requires an additional enzyme to utilize the FA, and it can actually interfere with the processing of methylfolates.
Methylfolate (technically methyltetrahydrofolate) is the body’s most active form of folate; all cells require MF to power the enzymes that make our DNA, genes, and chromosomes. The methyl component derived from folate is also important in its own right as it’s essential for epigenetics, or the switching on and off of genes, as well as cell maintenance, growth and formation, especially red blood cells.
Furthermore, brain cells do not only need MF for the reasons mentioned above, it also requires the molecule to create neurotransmitters, nerve cells insulation and hormones. Unfortunately MF is not commonly found in most food, and is also rarely included in dietary supplements. So in order to consume sufficient amounts to gain the known health benefits, it’s likely you’ll have to way to supplement this B vitamin.
Why Folic Acid May Not Be The Best Folates For Health
Folic acid (FA) is claimed to help consumers maintain good nutritional folate status, however:
Benefits of Methylfolate
Being the most active and the most effective form of folates for the body to consume, methylfolate offers several benefits over other types of FA, when adding it to your diet, these include:
+ Methylfolate is the folate naturally preferred by the body. It binds to special transport proteins contained in the intestinal lining, which aids absorption into the bloodstream.
+ Unlike folic acid, methylfolate, does not require an additional enzyme to convert it into an active folate
+ More efficient processing; more growth, renewal, and better cell function
+ Essential for creation of key neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain
+ Promotes healthy production of melatonin, the main sleep hormone
+ Clinically proven for healthy mood, memory and other cognitive functions, and behavior.
+ Enhances the clinically proven mood benefits of SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine).
+ Regulates homocysteine; a potentially toxic metabolite
+ Promotes healthy pregnancy and birth
When it comes to folates in food, not all health foods tell the whole truth. Most are fortified with folic acid that’s tough for the body to process; it can even hinder more effective forms of FA from being processed by the body. To ensure you’re diet contains enough folates, choose non-fortified foods to avoid excess folic acid, and supplement with methylfolate instead of folic acid; these simple steps can help reduce the risks of folic acid causing potential negative effects on your physical and mental health.