Folate vs Folic Acid

Folate vs Folic Acid

Folate, or Vitamin B9, is a naturally occurring nutrient found in food and supplements, and is used for red and white blood cell creation and DNA growth. This is a necessity for those who are pregnant or trying to conceive, as the properties found in folate support neural tube development during pregnancy. A lack of this critical nutrient has been linked to neural tube defects which can cause birth defects and miscarriages, and can even increase the risk for cancer or heart disease. While folate is found in many different foods and can be supplemented, getting the right amount can be tricky, and knowing the differences between folate and its synthetic form, folic acid, can be detrimental toward your health and/or pregnancy.

Where Folate is Found

Leafy vegetables are known for carrying a lot of folate. Your body will convert this gene into the active form of Vitamin B9, or 5-MTHF. Some examples of folate-heavy foods include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

Unfortunately some of the folate you consume through foods may not make it into your body, as a lot of it is lost when these foods are chopped or cooked. This can be a concern for pregnant women, who require more Vitamin B9 to support a healthy pregnancy.

Folate in its Synthetic Form

Folic acid is simply the synthetic form of folate/Vitamin B9. It can be taken as a supplement and is often used as an additive for processed foods. For folic acid to be accepted by the body, it has to undergo a conversion process, as it is not a natural version of the vitamin.

The MTHFR Gene

40% of women have a genetic variation in the MTHFR gene, causing folic acid not to be easily converted into its active form of 5-MTHF (Vitamin B9). What does this mean? If this genetic variation goes undetected, a woman who may be taking folic acid supplements wouldn’t actually receive any of the benefits, which could lead to a Vitamin B9 deficiency during pregnancy. This condition can lead to birth abnormalities and even miscarriages if you’re not getting the proper form of Vitamin B9. For men, this could lead to producing sperm that has chromosomal abnormalities.

Research shows that this does in fact go undetected very often! Folic acid goes through a slower conversion rate into its active form, and for those with the genetic variation of the MTHFR gene, this can mean that a lot of folic acid becomes unmetabolized, left lingering in the bloodstream.

Some researchers believe that high levels of folic acid that are unmetabolized could lead to increased risk for cancer as well.

If you have the MTHFR gene variation, it’s very important that you use a supplement that contains folate and not folic acid, to help prevent miscarriages. Unless you’ve done a genetic test for MTHFR, knowing for sure whether or not you have the MTHFR gene variation, it is highly recommended to err on the side of caution and simply take folate in your prenatal rather than folic acid.

To test for the MTHFR gene variation, you can have a simple blood test done, either from a doctor or on your own from labs like Quest or Any Lab Test Now. 



The only prenatal we have been able to find that is both a high-quality product, doesn’t contain biotin AND has folate not folic acid is Olly brand. The reason we caution against biotin is because it can throw off your blood test results, showing false highs and false lows of troponin, thyroid hormones, and more, which could potentially lead to a mis-diagnosis or mistreatment for a problem that isn’t actually occurring. Olly does change their formulas from time to time, so this is accurate as of 11/11/19. We also recommend double-checking the label to confirm as formulas change.

Conclusion - Take Folate

With the understanding that folic acid is slower to be converted into the active form of Vitamin B9, and that it can cause some adverse side effects, especially for those with the MTHFR genetic variation, we recommend getting your Vitamin B9 from its natural state, in folate, through a diet that’s high in folate, and through prenatal/supplements containing folate and not folic acid. It’s very important to read the labels on these supplements every time, because formulas change. While it is less common to find supplements with pure folate, there are some out there, and it can drastically decrease the risk of birth defects or other negative effects found from taking folic acid and not receiving the right amount of Vitamin B9 during pregnancy.

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