One of the most well-known B vitamins, endorsed by the FDA and included as a fortification in many foods, is folic acid. Due to this vitamin's important role in neurological health the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to fortify certain foods so that all women of childbearing age receive a daily dose of folic acid. The absence of folic acid in pregnancy increases the possibility of a neural tube defect (a defect in the development of the spinal cord). Aside from neurological health, this water-soluble vitamin has many integral functions in the body.
Chemically speaking, folic acid is a complex vitamin. The terms folic acid and folate are actually generic terms for several different forms of pteroyl (poly)-glutamate(s) conjugates. However, without getting too technical, for the purposes of this newsletter the most important thing to know about this vitamin is that like all B vitamins, there are standard forms and coenzyme forms. The coenzyme forms are the "active" forms which are utilized by the body after conversion. In supplement form, 'folic acid' is the synthetic chemical form which has limited absorption. We will be talking about the preferred form of this chemical, Methyl Folate, also known as L-Methylfolate and (L) 5-MTHF. In essence, this is the "active form" and is the form in which folic acid is stored within the liver. There is a certain genetic condition which prevents some people from being able to convert folic acid to the active form in their bodies and thus supplementation with 5-MTHF would certainly be crucial for this portion of the population, as well as benefiting the general population.
Folic acid is involved in the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying portion of the blood. Deficiency of this nutrient may result in various anemias including Sickle-Cell Anemia. Many people are familiar with homocysteine, the toxic amino acid by-product of metabolism and normal aging in the body. This rogue substance, reams of research has shown, can be a major factor in the creation of strokes and heart attacks. Elevated homocysteine wreaks havoc on multiple cardiovascular levels, including increased risk of clotting, microscopic bleeding, atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis, and ischemic heart disease. High homocysteine levels are caused in part by a deficiency in B vitamins. In particular, B-6, B-12 and folic acid have been shown to lower homocysteine levels and even reverse some of the damage caused by the high homocysteine. Here, the active forms of these vitamins are preferred. 5-MTHF is superior at raising serum folate levels, which in turn translates into lower homocysteine levels. In a study on healthy people, a low dose of folic acid (100 mcg per day) was compared to a low dose of 5-MTHF (113 mcg per day). After six months, the mean total homocysteine was reduced by 9.3% in the folic acid group, compared to a 14.6% reduction in the 5-MTHF group.
Brain/Nervous System Benefits
Homocysteine has also been shown to increase cognitive problems. Numerous studies have shown a clear link between high homocysteine levels and cognitive decline. People with high levels have a nearly 100% elevated risk of dementia over those with normal levels. One study of centenarians showed that individuals with normal cognitive function had lower homocysteine levels compared with those having dementia. Depression may occur as a result of folic acid deficiency, and supplemental folic acid may be an effective treatment for depression. Anxiety, confusion, poor memory, and poor concentration may be linked to deficiency. Insomnia and irritability may also be linked to deficiency.
Folic acid (5-MTHF) may decrease insulin resistance. It increases HDL cholesterol levels and inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol as well as lowering it. Liver function is enhanced by folic acid and it may prevent fatty liver as well.
Supplements are a Good Option
Folic acid from dietary sources is not as well absorbed as supplements, and the best dietary sources such as dark green leafy vegetables will lose their stores when cooked since the vitamin is heat-sensitive. The liver stores up to six to nine months of folic acid as Methyl Folate. Methyl Folate supplements are available in dosages from 400 mcg up to very high dose 10 mg.
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