Folate supports healthy pregnancy as it’s an essential nutrient for normal growth and development of the baby. It’s why this B-vitamin is often termed the ‘pregnancy vitamin’.
And here’s the thing…folate and folic acid are not the same. Mother nature made folate, not folic acid. Folate is the correct term we should be using for this incredibly important vitamin.
Three Good To Know Folate Facts
This B-vitamin is naturally present in a wide variety of foods including fruit and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables. Consuming these fruits and vegetables, preferably certified organic, will naturally boost folate intake.
Folate is a versatile micronutrient that keeps us healthy. It’s necessary at every life stage, from early development in the womb through to adulthood.
Taking folate is a protective measure against a range of pregnancy complications. Women who don’t get enough folate are at risk of having babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Low folate intake also increases the risk of having a premature, or low birth weight baby.
Folate vs. Folic Acid: What’s The Difference?
Folic acid is an inferior, man-made form. It’s not biologically active until it’s been converted to a useable form. More concerning, the body doesn’t handle folic acid very well so when not transformed properly the un-metabolized folic acid easily build ups in the body.
It’s difficult to steer completley clear of folic acid as it’s used to fortify a variety of processed foods, and is found in low-grade nutritional supplements.
Let me explain more…
Folic Acid Food Fortification
The body cannot make folate so folic acid is commonly used to enrich foods. It’s added to breakfast cereals, medical foods, snack foods, and some countries require grain millers to add folic acid to wheat flour. Be aware, if you’re not eating a gluten free diet it’s likely you are consuming synthetic folic acid in foods made with wheat flour.
Folic Acid in Dietary Supplements
Unfortunately, some companies choose to use folic acid (it’s cheaper) in their prenatal vitamin products. So check labels carefully as the ingredient list should clearly state the folate form, plus the amount per serving.
It’s important to know methyl folate is the body’s most active form of folate. And as a supplement it’s the most effective at increasing circulating folate levels.
Good news: more and more health companies are opting to use the superior methyl form!
The MTHFR Gene and Why It Matters To Thyroid Health
For those diagnosed with the MTHFR gene defect it’s vital to AVOID synthetic folic acid in prenatal dietary supplements.
MTHFR = methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase.
A MTHFR gene mutation is especially problematic during pregnancy. Certain mutations block proper utilization of folic acid. That is, the body finds it difficult to effectively convert folic acid into methyl folate.
Having the MTHFR gene mutation can increase a pregnant woman’s risk of recurrent miscarriages, preeclampsia, and developmental disorders in the baby.
In addition, inadequate folate activity due a folate block makes women susceptible to megaloblastic anemia, a condition in which the body produces unusually large, and abnormally shaped red blood cells.
If you’re concerned about your MTHFR gene status during preconception and pregnancy please talk to a healthcare practitioner who is an expert in MTHFR genetic polymorphisms and how they impact health.
Did you know there’s increasing awareness that a faulty MTHFR gene can impact thyroid health? You will see I often discuss this important issue here on the ThyroSynergy® blog.
How Much Folate Supports Healthy Pregnancy?
Folate is more important than ever during pregnancy when demand increases substantially. It’s why women who are planning on having a baby, or who are pregnant are advised to take folate. It’s a convenient way to ensure adequate intake of this nutrient before, and during pregnancy.
And it’s important to know this is very good advice, IF you are told to take folate, not folic acid. Otherwise it’s just plain BAD ADVICE that can have serious health consequences.
You’re wiser now! You have learnt here today that you should take active folate, not the man-made alternative. It’s why all the best prenatal supplements supply folate, never folic acid.
How much is safe?
According to the latest recommendations pregnant women should aim to get 600 mcg DFE per day. (DFE stands for dietary folate equivalent). Importantly, this advice changes when women are breastfeeding. The recommended daily intake when breastfeeding is set at 500 mcg DFE per day.
Have a diagnosed hypothyroid disorder? You should talk to your healthcare practitioner about your nutritional requirements. Yes, you need help and extra self-care strategies during this time. Here’s two reasons why…
🦋 During a normal pregnancy, the thyroid enlarges, and thyroid hormone production increases. And as you can imagine, when you have hypothyroidism this places extra pressure on a gland that is already functioning below par.
🦋 Secondly, the need for a range of nutrients that also support your thyroid increases during pregnancy (think folate, iodine, zinc, B12 and iron), and it’s nearly impossible to meet these needs through diet alone.
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Coppede F. Epigenetics and Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017;8:149. Published 2017 Jun 29.
Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Centre. MTHFR gene mutation. Link
Lamers Y, Prinz-Langenohl R, Bramswig S, Pietrzik K. Red blood cell folate concentrations increase more after supplementation with [6S]-5-methyltetrahydrofolate than with folic acid in women of childbearing age. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):156-61.
Pfeiffer CM, Sternberg MR, Fazili Z, et al. Unmetabolized folic acid is detected in nearly all serum samples from US children, adolescents, and adults. J Nutr. 2015;145(3):520–531.
The Consortium on Thyroid and Pregnancy- Study Group on Preterm Birth. Association of Thyroid Function Test Abnormalities and Thyroid Autoimmunity With Preterm Birth: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2019;322(7):632–641.
U.S National Library of Medicine. Genetics Home Reference. Your Guide To Understanding Genetic Conditions. MTHFR gene. Link