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Folate and Folic Acid: Everything You Need to Know

Folate and Folic Acid: Everything You Need to Know

The human body is extremely complex and intricate.

Every year we discover more and more about this fascinating internal ecosystem that lives within each and every one of us. Not only that, but we also learn more about what our bodies need at different stages of growth and development.

For instance, the needs of an adult pregnant woman differ largely from those of an adult male or even an adult woman who isn’t pregnant.

The diet, nutrition, and lifestyle of a pregnant woman can greatly impact the development of the fetus and the child.

This is why prenatal vitamins are so important to start taking early on in the pregnancy. In fact, if you know you’re ready to start trying, it’s suggested you start taking prenatal vitamins up to three full months in advance of conceiving.

This is partial because many pregnancies are hard to detect in the first 2-4 weeks, even though these weeks are absolutely critical for the early development of a healthy fetus. One of the main ingredients in many popular prenatal vitamins is a form of folate.

Typically, though, prenatal vitamins will contain a variant, known as folic acid.

While folic acid and folate are essentially the same ingredients, folic acid is synthetic, and harder to process, while folate is the end result anyway, and can be easier for our bodies to process and utilize.

Below we’ll put folate vs folic acid to highlight the differences and explain their health benefits as a prenatal vitamin ingredient.

What is Folate

Folate is an essential nutrient that the human body needs, but it is specifically crucial to the development of a fetus.

Folate supports neural tube development within the child which is critical for their cognitive abilities down the line. Not only that, though, but folate also helps with DNA methylation (or the expression of genes) while also supporting red blood cell formation.

All-in-all, this makes folate a prenatal vitamin must-have. Folate is the naturally occurring form of the nutrient and can be found in foods such as leafy greens, legumes like kidney beans or lentils, and citrus fruits.

When we ingest folate, it has to be converted to an active form which is known as 5-MTHF or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. This is the active form of folate which allows our body to actually utilize the nutrient and reap its benefits.

When folate is consumed naturally, or ingested as 5-MTHF, the active form, this conversion process is much easier on the human body.

This has made, in recent years, the active form of 5-MTHF slightly more popular as a prenatal vitamin addition due to the fact that having trouble with this internal conversion is relatively commonplace among adults.

What is Folic Acid

While folate is the naturally occurring nutrient we can find in citrus fruits and leafy greens, folic acid is its synthetic counterpart.

Folic acid, despite being synthetic, is eventually converted to the same active ingredient: 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. The 5-MTHF is what our body is able to use, but when it starts with folic acid, this conversion process is a lot tougher on the body.

This inefficient conversion process can result in an excess of folic acid deposits in the body, especially for those who have a genetic clash with this conversion process, as about a third of the population does.

While folic acid remains a popular ingredient added to prenatal multivitamins, it is quickly being outpaced by its gentler, more natural form, folate or the active form 5-MTHF.

Folate and Pregnancy

It’s already been mentioned that folate plays a critical role in neural tube development during pregnancy.

In fact, maintaining proper levels of folate in the body is a great way to reduce the chance of any neural tube defects. As such, it’s important to be ingesting appropriate volumes of folate before and during pregnancy in order to promote the healthy development of the child.

Checking Your Prenatal Multivitamin

If you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant, it’s probably also a good time to start taking a prenatal multivitamin for your own health, and the health of the baby as well. Don’t take just any prenatal vitamins, though.

Do your research, and check the ingredient list.

If you think you’d benefit from a more natural composition of vitamins and nutrients, check your prenatal multivitamin for folate or the active form 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate), and make sure there’s no sign of synthetic folic acid.

A few Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to think about before, during, and especially after pregnancy. Get your family journey started off on the right note by implementing a high-quality prenatal multivitamin into your regular daily routine.

By taking a prenatal multivitamin with folate or 5-MTHF, you can promote your own health and a healthy neural tube development process.