Active folate versus synthetic folic acid
What’s the difference between natural folate and synthetic folic acid?
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 while folic acid is its synthetic form. Vitamin B9 is an essential component of a human being’s diet. Human beings are not able to manufacture it by themselves and so they must get it from their diet.
Since folic acid has a different chemical structure to natural folate, the body needs to convert it to folate in order to be able to use it.
Each person’s genetic makeup affects the efficacy of the conversion of folic acid to folate. Among a very large amount of healthy women (between 40% and 60%), there is genetic defect (a mutation of the MTFHR gene) that impacts the ability to perform the conversion, and therefore there may be health implications (it may cause an accumulation of folic acid in the body – a fact that is linked to immunity problems and proliferation of existing growths).
This is the reason that most people prefer to take folate supplements instead of folic acid supplements because it is guaranteed that the body will be able to use the folate (vitamin B9) also if the person taking the supplement has the same genetic defect.
It’s worth knowing that vitamin B9 supplements appear in 3 possible forms: folic acid, folate, and L-Methylfolate. Make sure that L-Methylfolate (or 5MTHF) appears on the label of the product and not only the word “folate” because in order that folate be part of the body’s essential methylation processes, it is converted by an enzymatic process to the
L-Methylfolate molecule, that contains the methyl group. But most of the population has a genetic defect also in the same enzymes that participate in the manufacture of
L-Methylfolate from folate itself. So L-Methylfolate is the most promising supplement for supporting the methylation process.
Folate is vital for the proper growth and functioning of all the cells in the body, for producing DNA, for correcting the DNA, for creating amino acids, and for preventing anemia. In addition, a folate deficiency will manifest itself in a decrease of the cells of the immune system (the white cell count) and the level of platelets (the blood cells that are responsible for blood clotting).
Only about 50% of folate in natural food is absorbed, and a significant percentage of the folate that can be found in beans and lentils, leafy vegetables, and the other sources of folate in the diet are lost during cooking and in food processing.
Folic acid for female fertility
Now that it has been explained what the difference is between folic acid and folate and the reason why they get so much attention during pregnancy, let’s examine the benefits, which mostly go unnoticed, with regards to folic acid – folic acid improves fertility.
The Environment And Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, which was conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health, was one of the first studies to report that there is a link between higher levels of folic acid in the body and the increased likelihood of a live birth, especially among women who are undergoing IVF fertility treatments.
The researchers found that there is a higher probability of a live birth occurring among women with very high levels of folic acid in their body compared to women with very low levels of folic acid.
Two other studies, one based on the Harvard study and one from the University at Buffalo, both showed that taking the folic acid diet supplement before pregnancy is linked to a lower risk of infertility related to ovulation and in the short period before conception.
What if you are already undergoing fertility treatments? If so, some studies indicate that women who take folic acid supplements before IVF treatment have a higher number of mature eggs and therefore better-quality eggs.
Folic acid for male fertility and for sperm health
In a study published in the Human Reproduction Journal, it was found that men who have a high dosage of folic acid in their diet (more than 700 mg a day) reduce the risk of having irregularities in the genetic material of their sperm by up to 30%. This means that there is a lower chance of problems that could lead to miscarriages or to birth defects. Researchers in Holland proved that men who took a combination of 5 mg folic acid and 66 mg of zinc, increased their overall sperm count by 74%. It must be remembered that this is a very high dosage of folic acid compared to the recommended daily intake of 400 mcg (including zinc). It is therefore necessary to consult a doctor before taking such a high dosage.
Folic acid for preventing defects formed during embryo development
As mentioned before, vitamin B9 plays a central role in creating hereditary material in the cells (the DNA) and, for this reason, this component plays an enormously important role in the process of cell division and the normal development of the embryo. Low levels of folate in the first months of pregnancy are connected to the formation of abnormalities in the embryo’s neural canal, which will manifest as abnormal development of the brain and the spinal cord, and will lead to conditions, such as lack of development of the brain tissue (which will end in the death of the embryo) and other defects that cause severe disability.
Taking the folate supplement before becoming pregnant and during the pregnancy will prevent a deficiency of vitamin B9 and significantly reduce the risk of the formation of abnormalities in the embryo’s nervous system. Additionally, it’s important to know that folate deficiency in pregnant women is linked to arrested development of the embryo, to giving birth to babies with a low weight, and to premature births.