Folic acid is one of the more commonly used supplements—it is good for overall health, and is especially crucial for those who are pregnant. However, despite folic acid being in many supplements, the form of folic acid is not as widely considered. As is the case with many supplements, the form folic acid is in makes all the difference.
The active form of folate is called 5-MTHF; this is the form that the body can use—it can go into cells, and even cross the blood-brain barrier. Any folic acid that is not 5-MTHF has to undergo a conversion process in the body to be used. Still, up to 40 per cent of people have a mutation in their MTHFR gene, which means they have problems metabolizing folic acid.Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is an enzyme that activates and regulates folate metabolism in the body; it is responsible for converting folic acid into its active 5-MTHF form. 5-MTHF goes on to influence many important bodily processes, such as DNA, RNA, and SAMe production.
While on one hand, folate is recommended for pregnant women as a means to prevent spina bifida and other birth defects, on the other hand, folic acid has been linked to both an increased asthma risk in infants and an increased breast cancer risk in mothers. Still, pregnant women are consuming more folic acid than normal as part of their pregnancy regimen, which puts them at a greater risk than the average person. Plus, as many as half of all pregnant women have the MTHFR mutation, which hinders folic acid metabolization.Interestingly, these health risks are not associated with folate found in food. This tells us that folic acid and folate are not interchangeable. Synthetic folic acid lacks the methyl group needed to convert to usable folate in the body. As Dr. Ben Lynch states, “To convert folic acid into methylated folate requires a) multiple functional genes producing b) functional enzymes which requires c) adequate cofactors. This is difficult enough. It is not all. The enzymes produced must also be in an environment free of compounds which interfere with their function – such as medications, heavy metals, cytokines, chemicals. While rats can convert folic acid into dihydrofolate quickly and successfully, human biochemistry does not.”
The MTHFR mutation does not only affect how we utilize folic acid; it also has implications for other conditions, as well—cardiovascular disease, stroke, recurrent early miscarriages, migraines, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Several mental health conditions have also been linked to the MTHFR mutation, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism. An MTHFR mutation can affect one’s response to medications for these conditions, such as antidepressants and chemotherapy drugs. It can even affect one’s response to nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office! Supplementing with predigested, biologically active forms of folate, like 5-MTHF, can improve response to these medications, as well as being healthier overall.
This may be your first time reading that there are differences when it comes to folic acid, and a question may come to mind: if the methylated form of folate is the best and avoids health complications, why isn’t it the only form used? The answer is the raw material costs. Standard folic acid costs $75.00 per kg, whereas 5-MHTF methylated folate costs $4,000 per kg; as they say, you get what you pay for.
To help avoid health complications, read product labels, avoid foods that have been fortified with folic acid, and for food supplements, avoid Folic Acid sources. Instead, choose directly absorbable methylated forms. Life Choice® only uses 5-MTHF folate in our formulations. If you want to ensure that the folate you are taking is helpful and not harmful, only trust brands that have done their homework on this important nutrient.