Folate vs Folic Acid, worth knowing the difference!

First. Folate vs folic acid?

Folate = NATURAL naturally occurring, active forms of vitamin B9, found in foods, ready for use! Folic Acid = SYNTHETIC, non-active, needs to be converted(see above) so our bodies can use it! Some people cannot convert it or do not convert it effectively, so the natural form or activated fomr is better for them.

What is folate and why do we need it? Folate (or Vitamin B9) is an essential nutrient required to support daily functioning and development of body cells, tissue and whole body systems, including DNA/RNA synthesis, repair and methylation. During pregnancy the rapid cell division of the growing baby and foetal neural tube formation, haematopoiesis(new blood cell growth) and maternal health during pregnancy folate is critical (start taking 1 month pre-conception and during te pregnancy). Another important beneficial role of folate is helping to lower damaging homocysteine levels.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 400 micrograms(shown as µg or mcg) with upper limit of 1000µg from food/supplements

Examples of Folate-rich foods:[if gte vml 1]><v:shapetype id="_x0000_t75" coordsize="21600,21600" o:spt="75" o:preferrelative="t" path="m@4@5l@4@11@9@11@9@5xe" filled="f" stroked="f"> <v:stroke joinstyle="miter"></v:stroke> <v:formulas> <v:f eqn="if lineDrawn pixelLineWidth 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @0 1 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum 0 0 @1"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @2 1 2"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @0 0 1"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @6 1 2"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @8 21600 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @10 21600 0"></v:f> </v:formulas> <v:path o:extrusionok="f" gradientshapeok="t" o:connecttype="rect"></v:path> <o:lock v:ext="edit" aspectratio="t"></o:lock> </v:shapetype><v:shape id="Picture_x0020_2" o:spid="_x0000_i1025" type="#_x0000_t75" alt="strawberries grow your own" href="" style='width:225pt;height:121.5pt;visibility:visible;mso-wrap-style:square' o:button="t"> <v:fill o:detectmouseclick="t"></v:fill> <v:imagedata src="file:///C:\Users\HEALTH~1.HEA\AppData\Local\Temp\msohtmlclip1\01\clip_image001.jpg" o:title="strawberries grow your own"></v:imagedata> </v:shape><![endif][if !vml][endif]

Strawberries(8) 80µg Kiwi fruit(1 medium) 80µg Asparagus(5 spears) 100µg Spinach (cooked, 1/2 cup) 100µg * gently wilt or steam as cooking, especially in water destroys folate Broccoli (1/2 cup) 50µg Avocado(1/2 medium) 100µg Orange (1 medium) 40µg

If you need folate in a supplement, then look for Calcium folinate. Calcium folinate is a compound used in quality supplements as it is an active folate derivative(see the picture above) so does not need to go through any conversion.

Folic acid is synthetic, non-active but stable form that needs to be converted in a longer process to 5-MTHF for use in the body, and is found in most supplements and fortified foods. Enzymes(DHFR and MTHFR) are needed to convert folic acid into derivatives of folate(THF and 5-MTHF). Folic acid still has extensive clinical evidence backing the effectiveness of supplementation during preconception and throughout pregnancy. Activating the folic acid can be quite a slow process and research indicates a big variation in individual enzyme levels so response to folic acid supplementation can vary because of this. Age and enzyme levels are factors that led to the discovery that ‘polymorphisms’ of the DHFR and MTHFR genes exist. People with this gene mutation have reduced enzyme function so have poor conversion to cellular folate. In Europe, reports indicate that 12% of the population may have one mutation, with a further 43% with both(quite a high percentage of people may be unaware they have it). There is limited data on the prevalence of these polymorphisms in Australian populations, research assessing an antenatal population of 2019 women found 11.62% had the polymorphism for MTHFR 677 for example.


Assoc Prof. Antigone Kouris-Blazos, Accredited Practising Dietician, Food Sources of Nutrients A Ready Reckoner of Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Phytonutrients, 2nd Ed, 2012

Dr David Cannata ‘What’s the difference between folic acid and folate?’Official Journal of ANTA The Natural Therapist March 2014 Vol 29 No 1

Said JM et al 2008 ‘The prevalence of inherited thrombophilic polymorphisms in an asymptomatic Australian antenatal population’ Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. Dec;48(6):536-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2008.00919.x. .

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