Folic acid, folate, vitamin B9, are they the same thing or are they different? Additionally, how important is this vitamin for your health? Well to answer the first question, folate is a B vitamin also known as vitamin B9. It is an essential vitamin, as it cannot be produced in the body. This water-soluble vitamin is important for red blood cell formation, as well as healthy cell growth and function. It is especially crucial during early stages of pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. This synthetic version does not occur naturally in food but it is typically added to refined grain products as well as vitamin supplements.
So what’s the difference?
Folic acid is different from natural folate because the body has to convert folic acid into its active form 5-MTHF, before the body can utilize it. This process requires several different enzymes, including the MTHR enzyme. Some individuals have a genetic mutation that affects the efficiency of their MTHR enzymes converting folic acid to 5-MTHF. This can lead to a build up of folic acid in the bloodstream, resulting in negative health outcomes including poor immunity, increased cancer risk, and undetected vitamin B12 deficiency. Even if you have well functioning MTHR enzymes, it still takes time for the body to convert folic acid to its active form. According to a study published by BMC Public Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17378936), even a small dose of 200-400 mcg per day may not be completely metabolized by the body until the following dose.
What type of vitamin B9 should you be taking?
According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-folate/art-20364625), the best form of vitamin B9 comes from whole foods. While the body absorbs folic acid at a faster rate than folate, folic acid must be converted back into folate in order for the body to use it. Therefore, healthcare professionals often recommend getting your folate from whole foods, rather than a supplement. For most people, a balanced diet provides all of the folate that you need. Here is a list of whole foods that are naturally high in folate:
- Black beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Turnip greens
- Orange juice
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or you have a condition that interferes with the body’s ability to absorb folate taking a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid or 5-MTHR is recommended as the body’s folate needs are higher than the average person.
One of the most concerning side effects of consuming too much folic acid is the possibility of masking a vitamin B12 deficiency. Since vitamin B9 and vitamin B12 cannot be produced in the body it is important that adequate amounts of these vitamins are consumed in order prevent negative health conditions such as megaloblastic anemia. Consuming more than enough folic acid can also promote risk of cancer, and reduced brain function. The recommended intake of vitamin B9 for adults is 400 mcg per day, and 600-800 mcg for pregnant women.
If you are concerned about the amount of vitamin B9 you are receiving or have other questions regarding diet and lifestyle consider a consult with a doctor of alternative medicine Overland Park KS who can assist you. A treatment plan will be created to help improve your overall health.