Is folic acid the same as folate?


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One of the first things we think about when getting ready for pregnancy is to start taking a prenatal vitamin.  Most of us have heard that taking a prenatal vitamin is important to prevent things like spina bifida in children.

When my husband and I started trying, I made sure to change my multivitamin to a prenatal so I was doing all I could to take care of my health and the baby’s health.  Like everything else about pregnancy, there were lots of choices for prenatal vitamins out there, so I just picked one that looked good and started taking it.

What I didn’t know then was that…

… my body may not have been able to use the ingredients in the prenatal vitamin, especially the folic acid.

It is important to be able to absorb and use the vitamins in your prenatal as B vitamins are one of the nutrients that can become depleted with hormonal birth control use.  And, since the spinal cord is one of the first things to develop, you want to make sure you rebuild your stores in your body for the early weeks of development.

Folic acid and folate are forms of Vitamin B9 and are helpful to prevent neural tube malformations like spina bifida.  Since the spinal cord develops early in the growing fetus, it is important for women to have adequate stores of Vitamin B9 before getting pregnant.  The two terms, folate and folic acid are used almost interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Folate is… the natural form of Vitamin B9 and is found in foods like leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, beets, liver and lentils. Folate is changed into a usable form in the lining of our small intestines and then absorbed directly into our bloodstream.

Folic acid… is a synthetic form of the Vitamin B9.  It was created in 1943, and beginning in 1998, many processed foods like breads, crackers, and cereals have been fortified with folic acid. If you check your current prenatal vitamin, it probably contains folic acid.

When we ingest folic acid it travels to the liver to be converted, with a specific enzyme, to a form our body can use.  If the liver is not able to convert the folic acid, the unmetabolized folic acid circulates in our blood stream. Unmetabolized Folic Acid (UMFA) has been identified as a potential factor contributing to food allergies in children.  

So how can you get more folate and less folic acid in your diet?

Eat lots of leafy greens.  Add spinach to a smoothie, chopped kale to a soup or stew, or use collard greens for a sandwich wrap.

Add lentils to your weekly meal plan.  Make a nourishing lentil soup with bone broth, or top your salad with lentils.

Eat more beets. Add beets to your smoothie to make it a beautiful pink, or top your salad with some fermented beets as a source of B9 and as a probiotic.

Supplement. Check your prenatal vitamin for folic acid.  If your prenatal contains folic acid, upgrade to one that has a more absorbable form of B9 which may be listed as “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF”.  Keep in mind though, a supplement is just that, supplemental.  You can’t just take your supplement and not eat whole, nutritious foods.

Two prenatal vitamins that I recommend to clients are Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal and Thorne Basic Prenatal.  Both have the absorbable forms of B vitamins. If you have a hard time taking capsules, Seeking Health has a chewable and protein powder version of their prenatal.

Eat less packaged foods.  Many packaged foods like bread and breakfast cereal have folic acid added to them.  Eating more whole foods will help to reduce the amount of folic acid you are getting.

That’s a lot of information to take in at once!

For more info in smaller pieces, here’s a link to my 14-day Fertility Challenge where you get 2 weeks of emails with small actions you can take on your way to fertility success.