Folate Forms & Functions
Folate plays many important roles in our physiology. It is needed for healthy cell function and division; to convert food into energy; to make red blood cells and neurotransmitters; and to synthesize and repair DNA. In addition, folate lowers homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Folate is especially nourishing to the nervous system where it facilitates growth of axons and neurons making it essential for healthy mood, memory and cognitive function. But folate is probably best known for its role in the development of neural tube tissue into healthy fetal brains and spinal cords.
What Is Folate?
Folate is the natural form of Vitamin B9, one of the water-soluble B-complex nutrients. It occurs naturally in foods, especially green leafy veggies (“folate” is from the Latin word for leaf, folium). Folate is converted in the digestive tract into 5-MTHF, a biologically active form used by our cells. Confusingly, folate is also a general term for folic acid and other substances with similar nutritional purposes.
What Is Folic Acid?
Although folate and folic acid are both forms of Vitamin B9, they are not the same. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate commonly used for supplements and fortified foods. Most folic acid is not converted to 5-MTHF in the digestive system but in the liver and other tissues — a slow and inefficient process that can lead to an unhealthy excess of non-metabolized folic acid in the blood. For those eating fortified foods and/or who do not have the enzyme necessary for the conversion, this excess may be especially problematic. Taking folic acid along with other B vitamins (especially B6 and B12) as well as Vitamin C, can help make the conversion more efficient. Or simply use a safer form that does not require the conversion.
What Is Folinic Acid?
Folinic acid is a metabolically active derivative of folic acid that is more stable and does not require enzymatic conversion in order to be utilized. It is used for folic acid deficiency and as an antidote to folic acid antagonists (drugs that prevent our bodies from using folic acid). Folinic acid is found naturally in foods such as leafy greens and it is a good form for supplementation since it can increase folic acid levels in cases where other forms can not.
Because of the differences between these forms, on supplement labels you will now see folate/folic acid amounts listed as “mcg DFE” (micrograms Dietary Folate Equivalent) instead of just mcg (micrograms).
Since our bodies can not make folate, we must get it from dietary or supplemental sources. Foods rich in folate include brewer’s yeast, leafy greens, legumes, asparagus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, liver and eggs.
When taking supplemental folate, look for metabolically active forms like folinic acid or 5-MTHF. Evergreen's Methyl Folate uses Quatrefolic® which is structurally similar to the reduced (bioactive) form of folic acid. This means that MTHFR conversion is unnecessary so this important nutrient is immediately utilized by our bodies.
For adults, the daily recommended intake of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs) is 400 mcg with an upper limit of no more than 1,000 mcg per day from all sources.
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