Folic Acid, Folate, and MTHFR… oh my!

Folic Acid Folate in Pregnancy

Folic Acid, Folate, and MTHFR… oh my!

Folic Acid, and Folate, and MTHFR… oh my! Lions, and tigers, and bears… oh my! Folic Acid, and Folate, and MTHFR… oh my! Lions, and tigers, and bears… oh my!

Folate, or vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that every woman should take whether she’s planning to get pregnant or not. Here, find out how much you need and how to get it.

If you’re planning to become pregnant, you already know how important a healthy diet, exercise and getting plenty of sleep are, but one of the most important ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy is to get enough folate (folic acid) prior to conception.

Folate or methylfolate, rather than the synthetic form known as folic acid or vitamin B9, is one of many super-star nutrients that our bodies need to run on all cylinders, like a car. Everyday new cells are rapidly reproducing in every organ of our bodies but without folate, none of it would happen.

Folate has a very important role in making cell reproductions possible
and happen in an efficient manner.

Why Folate versus Folic Acid?

Some estimate that as many as 40 percent of people have a MTHFR mutation — and most don’t know it. I just so happen to be one of the four in ten people who have this genetic change so I happen to know a lot about it and how I personally managed my malabsorption of folic acid while trying to conceive and during my pregnancies. During pregnancy, folate absorption becomes even more important because of its role in the prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs).

Put in the simplest form, folic acid is the synthetic form. Folate, or methylfolate, is the active form. So, if 40% of the population has an MTHFR mutation, then 40% of the population is not absorbing folic acid. Therefore, 40% of the population, especially those who may become or are pregnant, would greatly benefit from folate or Methylfolate, not folic acid.

No MTHFR, is not short for an expletive. I thought so, too. The MTHFR gene provides instructions for {a really long word..} methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, the enzyme used to convert folic acid (vitamin B9) into Folate’s active form, methyl-folate (5MTHF). See where I’m going? Synthetic products are always harder for the body to absorb where natural products absorb much easier. Having MTHFR makes it that more difficult or even non-existent.

Why Folate is Important

Neural tube defects are birth defects of the spinal cord such as spina bifida, the brain such as anencephaly, and brain stem malformation, another type that causes brain tissue to descend into the spinal canal.

Neural tube defects affect approximately 300,000 babies worldwide each year but between 50 and 70 percent of neural tube defects can be prevented when women take folate or a methylfolate in a prenatal vitamin or additional supplement.

The key, however, is to take folate everyday whether you’re actively trying to conceive or holding off on having children for awhile.

That’s because the moment you become pregnant­—before you get a positive pregnancy test—your baby is already reproducing those important neurological cells that are vital for the development in his brain and spine, known as the central nervous system.

Folate: Make It a Daily Habit

Although experts say any woman who can become pregnant should take folate, approximately 22 percent of women between 12- and 49-years-old don’t have enough folate in their bodies to prevent neural tube defects, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

Not only is it important to get enough folate before pregnancy, you should continue to take it throughout your pregnancy both for your own health and to support your baby’s growth and development.

Unlike fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) that are readily stored in the body, folate is a water soluble vitamin so you need to get it on a daily basis to make sure you always have enough available. “This nutrient needs to be constantly replenished to maintain healthy levels,” Bloch said.

Folic Acid: How Much Do You Need?

In the U.S., most women should take a multivitamin that contains 800 micrograms (mcg) of folate every day, and/or the same amount in a separate supplement, before they get pregnant. Always talk to your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements you read about on the internet.

During pregnancy, women need 800 mcg and if they breastfeed, 500 mcg. In other countries, the recommendations might vary slightly due to the quality of food sources and other factors.

Some women may need to take very high doses—as much as 1,000 micrograms a day—but this should always be done under a doctor’s supervision. These include women who have a family history of neural tube defects, those with sickle cell disease or those who have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Celiac disease or malabsorption problems.

Although folic acid is more efficiently digested and absorbed, you also need to get folate by eating foods such as leafy green vegetables, citrus juices, beans, nuts and seeds, and breads and cereals that are fortified with folic acid.

The good news is that you can never get too much folate regardless of how many folate-rich foods you eat along with your folic acid supplement. So kick off your day with a green smoothie, beet juice, or a vegetable frittata along with your supplement and you’ll be off to a great start.