Folate v Folic Acid – The Important Difference for a Healthy Baby February 19 2016 by Simone Denny

Hello there,

This week I am delighted to welcome Naturopath Tasha Jennings to the Nourishing Hub to talk about Folate and Folic Acid. I have been very patiently waiting to introduce Tasha’s conception and pregnancy product to you and I’m just delighted it arrives on the Nourishing Hub next week. The supplement is called Zycia (meaning ‘life’) and has been developed with the latest research into prenatal nutrition combining a comprehensive range of important vitamins and minerals. Zycia Natal Nutrients contain an active form of folate – why is this so important? I’ll let Tasha explain…

Folate v Folic Acid – The Important Difference for a Healthy Baby

So you want to have a baby, congratulations!  You’ve probably been told by now by friends, family, GP’s and the media about the importance of folate, or did they say folic acid?  Aren’t they the same thing anyway?

In fact, no they’re not. There is a very important difference between folate and folic acid that can not only affect your chances of conceiving but can also impact your ability to carry a healthy pregnancy.

Folate is the natural nutrient found in food and used by the body to create DNA. Having sufficient folate in our system is vital not only to support conception but is essential to healthy growth and development of your baby.  Without sufficient folate, you cannot sustain a pregnancy.  Women with low folate levels are at increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Folate supports the development of the neural tube, which connects the brain and the spinal cord.  This chord enables the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. Complete development and closure of this neural tube occur in the first 5 weeks of pregnancy, before you may even be aware you’re pregnant.  Failure of the neural tube to properly develop can lead to miscarriage or birth defects.

So how do you make sure you’re getting enough folate? A healthy diet is vital for a healthy baby.  Good dietary sources of folate include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, cauliflower, parsley, Brussel sprouts, celery, bok choy, cabbage, avocado and quinoa. However, it’s important to remember that folate is a very unstable nutrient, meaning that if you heat it or otherwise process it, you can lose it. In today’s highly processed society our food is often lacking in natural folate.

Due to the high importance of folate for reproduction and general health, today’s foods are often fortified with folic acid and folic acid supplements are recommended to women of child-bearing age. For the past 20 years, a dose of 500mcg of folic acid has been recommended for women who are pregnant or wanting to fall pregnant. However, new studies are finding that 40% of women are still not achieving the recommended blood levels of folate despite taking folic acid supplements consuming foods fortified with folic acid. Why?

Folate and folic acid are not the same. Folic acid is a synthetic supplemental source of folate. Unfortunately, 50% of people struggle to properly metabolize folic acid into useable folate. Those affected are more likely to struggle with fertility and if conception does occur, they are at a 60% greater risk of neural tube defects.

So how do you know if you’re affected? A common polymorphism of the MTHFR gene causes this metabolism issue. A test can be requested from your GP or specialist to check your MTHFR status.

There are also newer supplemental forms of folate, which bypass the MTHFR gene.  Calcium folinate (folinc acid) has been shown to raise plasma folate levels more effectively than folic acid.

There are prenatal supplements now available (such as Zycia) which provide this ‘active’ form of folate. Taking a supplement alongside a healthy diet providing plenty of natural folates is a great step towards supporting the future health of your baby.