Is folic acid on your radar? Did you know this essential B vitamin is involved in your overall health in many different ways? During folic acid awareness week (January 4th - January 10th) we will dive into some surprising facts about folic acid, including what this vitamin is good for, why you will want to take it, and how it upgrades your body.
Before we get started, it’s good to know that folic acid and folate are different forms of vitamin B9. Even though they are distinctly different, people often use their names interchangeably. Do you feel confused about the difference between folic acid vs. folate? If so, then you’re not alone; even researchers and professionals are sometimes confused. So what is the difference between folic acid and folate? Keep reading!
Folate vs. Folic Acid?
Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient that naturally occurs as folate in foods. On the other hand, folic acid, another form of vitamin B9, is a synthesized form known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid. When you consume folic acid, not all of it is immediately converted in your digestive system into the active form of folate called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (or 5-MTHF). For further conversion, your liver and other tissues are needed. Because this process can be inefficient in some people, it might take time for your body to convert it all to 5-MTHF. One study showed that taking folic acid along with vitamin B6 (and other B vitamins) can help make the conversion more efficient.
Benefits of Folate
Folate, known as vitamin B9, is a critical water-soluble vitamin that plays many roles in your health and wellness. Folate helps facilitate healthy cell division and helps your body copy and create DNA. It also helps your body use various amino acids and vitamin B12.
Folate supports heart health and might even help reduce the risk of heart disease because it leads to decreased levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can contribute to the formation of blood clots and cause arteries to narrow and harden. This can help decrease the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Folate can also help support strong bones and cognitive function. Folic acid can influence the rate of bone metabolism to promote better bone health and the entire B vitamin family has long been associated with cognitive health and impairment.
Being deficient in folate can have serious consequences that include fatigue and painful mouth sores. To help prevent a folate deficiency, many countries require the fortification of certain food products with folic acid. In the U.S., grains and wheat flour are enriched with folic acid.
Folate and Pregnancy
One of the primary benefits of folate is that it promotes a healthy pregnancy. Many doctors recommend supplementing with folate during pregnancy to help ensure that vitamin B9 needs are met and the chances of pregnancy-related complications are reduced.
The role of folate in DNA synthesis and enzyme reactions makes it critical to prevent birth defects and support the formation of a healthy brain, spine, and spinal cord. Meeting folate needs can also decrease the risk of anemia, preterm birth, and other pregnancy complications.
Healthy Sources of Vitamin B9
Whole foods that are naturally high in folate include leafy greens (such as leafy lettuce and spinach), asparagus, avocados and Brussels sprouts. However, for pregnant women and many others, nutritional supplements can be an easy way to be sure that you are getting an adequate amount of vitamin B9 every day. Folic acid is the most common form of vitamin B9 in supplements. Other nutritional supplements may contain the 5-MTHF form of vitamin B9, which is considered an adequate alternative to folic acid.
The Bottom Line
The best sources of folate are from natural, whole-food sources like organic fruits and vegetables. These foods are nutrient-dense and are rich in vitamins and minerals. To up your vitamin B9 intake with a folic acid supplement, be sure to purchase one from a trusted company with a dedication to high quality products.