Folate is an essential vitamin that cannot be made by the body so adequate amounts must be obtained through diet or supplementation. The body’s demand for folate increases during pregnancy as it is required for the growth and development of the baby, this makes supplementation of folate essential to meet these high demands of early foetal development. You not only want to make sure you are getting enough folate to support pregnancy, but you also want to make sure you are able to absorb it effectively.
You may have heard about folic acid, folate and methylfolate, and be a little confused as to which one you need and which is which.
It is important to note there are key differences between these three forms of folate. Folate is inactive B9 which occurs naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs, and legumes. Folic acid is the man-made version of folate, also inactive. Methylfolate is the active form of B9, here it is the “methyl” part of its name that becomes important, this acts like a carrier for folate to get into the cell and exert its effect, this means that methylfolate is ready to freely move into the cell without having to wait around for its carrier to let it in which may or may not appear depending on your genes. In this case if a carrier did not come along to activate folic acid or folate into methylfolate so it can enter the cell, it would instead move through to be excreted from the body.
Most supplements will contain folic acid, or you may have been given folic acid by your GP, some higher quality supplements will contain methyl folate too.
Folic acid needs to be converted into methylfolate, remember it needs its carrier to enter the cell before it can be utilised. This is where you can run into problems.
Your genetic makeup dictates how well you can convert folic acid into the active form methylfolate. It is estimated up to 60% of the population have a gene mutation (MTHFR) which impacts how well your body can convert inactive folic acid to active and useable methylfolate, if you are one of the 6 in 10 people that have this gene mutation it is possible you are not absorbing folic acid effectively. Testing for this gene mutation can be done, however I like to safe-guard my patients by always using the most active form of methylfolate to ensure they are absorbing what they need regardless of their genes. The active form of folate -methylfolate can come under different names, for the active form look out for: 5-MTHF, 5-Methyltragydrofolate, or L-Methylfolate (not folic acid).
The intricacies of different vitamin forms and which is best for each health situation is what nutritionists specialise in. Before buying supplements online or over the counter it pays to check in with a qualified nutritionist to make sure what you are buying is right for you. For a 15-minute supplement review to discuss your needs, click here.