If your doctor has recommended that you take more folic acid, this is an article you will want to read. A great number of doctors have started telling their patients to increase their intake of folate, and there is a good reason why.
As The Association of UK Dietitians tells us, folic acid (vitamin B9) is a vital B vitamin needed by the body, along with the help of vitamin B12, to form red blood cells.1 Deficiency in folic acid is no small problem – it can lead to anaemia and compromised nerve function. What’s more, the body relies on folic acid as the very building block of good health, needed to form DNA within every cell so that healthy cells can continue to replicate.
Folate has one more important task that all human life depends on. It is folate that the body needs in ample amounts to regulate DNA methylation and reduce harmful levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid formed when other amino acids are broken down in the blood through normal body processes. High levels of homocysteine have been confirmed to be a risk factor for cancer.2 High levels of folate have been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, while folate’s ability to lower homocysteine levels may be associated with a lower risk of exfoliation glaucoma, a leading cause of visual impairment and blindness.3,4 High levels of homocysteine have also been linked to a higher risk of heart and vessel disease, considered even more of a danger to the heart than high cholesterol.5
THE FOLIC ACID FALLACY
The Association of UK Dietitians, like many doctors, says that unless you are pregnant (a time in life when a woman needs even more folate to help prevent birth defects), men, women, and children should be able to get enough folate from a healthy diet. Other doctors may recommend taking an over-the-counter supplement as well.
To understand where the problem lies, it helps to understand folate in its many different forms. You may have heard folate and folic acid referred to interchangeably – they are both forms of the water-soluble B vitamin. Folate can be found in healthy foods like leafy greens, beans, legumes, nuts, and some fruits, like lemons and bananas. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin that has been added to “enriched” foods like pastas, breads, flours, cereals, baked goods, crackers, and cookies since the late 1990s.
This synthetic form of folate can also be found in a large number of commercial supplements, which should make it easy for every person to get enough of the daily folate that the body needs to regulate, repair, and regenerate. But that’s where so many of us, including many doctors, are wrong.
Because of a genetic variation, folic acid in the synthetic form cannot be absorbed by an estimated 25 percent of the population.6 And if the folic acid that is absorbed does not cross the blood-brain barrier, then it is 100 percent useless. In summation, synthetic folic acid is useless for everyone if it is not in the right form.
With the risk of folate deficiency and high homocysteine levels hanging in the balance, wouldn’t it make sense to get enough folate from the diet instead? Unfortunately, there are two roadblocks with this approach. Even natural food sources may not be enough to provide the body with the daily folate it needs to aid in repair and recovery. The sad truth is that vitamins and minerals in our food supply have been sorely depleted because of commercial agricultural practices, and many of the most nutritious foods are not always as they seem. Cooking and food processing can also destroy natural folate levels.
This does not in any way mean that eating Really Healthy Foods is not important; it simply means that a highly absorbable supplement is often the only way to bridge the great nutritional divide.
Secondly, while we know that folic acid must be taken in a form that the body can use and absorb, the “enriched” food sources that contain folic acid are not even close to healthy. Most folic-acid-enriched foods come as starchy carbs, known to trigger inflammation in the body related to chronic disease. Vitamin-enriched or not, processed foods like cereals, baked goods, refined and wheat pastas, refined flours, crackers, and cookies should be avoided at all costs.
THE NEW FORM OF FOLIC ACID YOUR BODY NEEDS
Most forms of synthetic folic acid fall short because they have not been converted to the active form that can be used by the body. As we’ve already discussed, ordinary synthetic folic acid found in a number of over-the-counter vitamin supplements and enriched foods does not have the bioavailability to increase plasma folate levels in those who are deficient or who are genetically unable to absorb the vitamin.
A new, patented, and activated form of folate has been created just for this purpose. 5-MTHF folate is the only form of folate able to cross the blood-brain barrier. 5-MTHF is the metabolically active form of folic acid that can be found in nature, not in “enriched” food sources, so it is usable by 100 percent of the population, including the 25 per cent or more who cannot absorb folic acid. 5-MTHF is the same biochemically converted folic acid that can be found in the body once the vitamin has been digested and absorbed.7
When you supplement with 5-MTHF, you are getting all the benefits of folic acid in a form that your body can use – including potential protection against cancer and heart disease by lowering harmful levels of homocysteine, as research has confirmed. With this bioactive and fully “charged” form of folic acid, your body’s genetic ability to absorb the vitamin no longer matters. 5-MTHF is activated folate that is fully absorbable for anyone. When taken in a supplement, 5-MTHF goes straight to the source to synthesise and repair DNA.
Finding the right form of folate in a supplement is rare, so read your product labels carefully. The difference between synthetic and bioavailable folic acid is like night and day – bioavailable folic acid can increase blood serum levels 700 per cent more than ordinary folic acid.8 The poorly absorbed form of this vitamin may not be used by the body, while the activated form has the power to manage or prevent disease.9
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1. “Folic Acid Food Fact Sheet.” The Association of UK Dietitians.
2. Clin Chim Acta. 2002 Aug;322(1-2):21-8.
3. Victoria L. Stevens, Marjorie L. McCullough, Juzhong Sun, Eric J. Jacobs, Peter T. Campbell, Susan M. Gapstur. High Levels of Folate From Supplements and Fortification Are Not associated With Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer. Gastroenterology, 2011; DOI: 10.1053/j. gastro.2011.04.004.
4. Jae H. Kang, Stephanie J. Loomis, Janey L. Wiggs, Walter C. Willett, Louis R. Pasquale. A Prospective Study of Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12Intake in Relation to Exfoliation Glaucoma or Suspected Exfoliation Glaucoma. JAMA Ophthalmology, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/ jamaophthalmol.2014.100.
5. Renzhe Cui, Hiroyasu Iso, Chigusa Date,
Shogo Kikuchi, Akiko Tamakoshi for the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study Group. Dietary Folate and Vitamin B6 and B12 Intake in Relation to Mortality From Cardiovascular Diseases. Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. Stroke, 2010; DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.578906.
6. Wilcken B, Bamforth F, Li Z, et al. Geographical and ethnic variation of the 677C>T allele of 5,10 methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR): findings from over 7000 newborns from 16 areas world wide. J Med Genet. 2003;40(8):619-625.
7. Clin Pharmacokinet. 2010 Aug;49(8):535-48. doi: 10.2165/11532990-000000000-00000.
8. Br J Pharmacol. 2004 Mar;141(5):825-30. Epub 2004 Feb 9.
9. Circulation. 1998 Jan 27;97(3):237-41.