In today’s exploration of the world of folate, we’re delving deep into this essential vitamin, particularly because we recently observed Folic Acid Awareness Week. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being. However, it’s important to note that we’ll be presenting an alternative perspective to the common recommendations from organizations like the CDC and other health outlets. We’ll discuss studies that suggest potential drawbacks of folic acid, prompting you to consider reducing your intake of this synthetic form while boosting your folate levels naturally.
While many of us are familiar with folate’s importance during pregnancy, especially in preventing neural tube defects in infants, it’s crucial to understand that folate isn’t exclusively relevant to expectant mothers. This vitamin, discovered in the 1930s, is classified as one of the World Health Organization’s essential medicines and ranks among the top 100 most prescribed medications in the United States. Why the prominence? Because folate is central to the creation of new DNA, RNA, and red blood cells – processes vital not only during pregnancy but in our day-to-day lives.
Nonetheless, confusion surrounds this vital nutrient, mainly because not all folate forms are equal. Folic acid, the most prevalent form found in supplements and processed foods, is synthetic and comes with some noteworthy distinctions. If medical professionals primarily rely on the CDC or Medscape for information, they might be surprised to learn that folic acid has shown potential harm in certain studies.
Let’s break down the primary forms of folate:
- Folic Acid: This synthetic form was developed in a lab in 1943. It’s not naturally occurring and is prevalent in supplements and fortified foods due to its cost-effectiveness and stability.
- Folinic Acid: This is a bioavailable form of folate naturally found in nature.
- Methylfolate: The bio-active form of folate, also found in nature.
Research indicates that dietary folate is critical during the three months leading up to conception and the first 28 days of pregnancy, supporting cell growth and division, which accelerate during pregnancy.
Now, here’s where it gets intriguing. Folate intake recommendations have evolved over time. In 1991, the CDC recommended 4mg of folic acid for women with a history of neural tube defect pregnancies. In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service advised all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Finally, in 1998, the FDA initiated mandatory food fortification, requiring non-organic flours, breads, cereals, and pastas to be enriched with folic acid. While there were positive outcomes in reducing neural tube defects, similar results were observed with supplementation using non-synthetic forms of folinic acid and methylfolate.
However, here’s the caveat. These recommendations and fortification inadvertently resulted in elevated folic acid and unmetabolized folic acid in our bodies, associated with various health concerns, ranging from asthma and allergies to cognitive decline and an increased risk of certain cancers. Notably, individuals with MTHFR mutations, affecting a significant portion of the population (possibly 40-60%), are particularly susceptible to these issues. Research suggests that conventional high-dose folic acid use (like 5mg/day) has become outdated and may even lead to immune dysfunction and cancer.
Recent studies have hinted at links between high folic acid intake and childhood food allergies, as well as childhood cancer in mothers with epilepsy.
In light of Folic Acid Awareness Week, where the focus is often on the necessity of folic acid, it’s crucial to recognize that they have a part of it right. Folate is undeniably essential for your diet and overall health, but folic acid can pose problems. It’s vital to be aware of folic acid and scrutinize the contents of your supplements and food choices. If you spot folic acid in the ingredients list, it’s time to reconsider. Taking this step is pivotal in optimizing your health and, if you’re pregnant, safeguarding your baby’s well-being.
So, what should you do instead? Seek out organic flours, breads, and pastas, as they don’t contain folic acid. Increase your consumption of methylfolate and folinic acid in their natural forms. Prioritize obtaining as much of these natural folate forms as possible through your diet and select supplements that contain methylfolate and folinic acid.
We hope this exploration sheds light on the world of folate and why being mindful of folic acid is essential, not necessarily for its potential benefits, but for the health issues it may entail.