Why Should You Avoid Folic Acid?

Why Should You Avoid Folic Acid?

You have all heard the old adage that you need folic acid for normal bodily function, AND especially if you are pregnant. Pregnant women are advised to increase their folic acid intake to prevent spina bifida in their baby. Not that this is wrong but folic acid is not a natural form of folate. It’s not sourced from food and our body doesn’t process it in the same way as it does natural folate. It is fully synthetic. 

Yes, we 100% need a daily intake of folate, but from natural sources or in a form that is more bioavailable. A form everyone can properly utilize. 

Now to fully explain why folic acid is not a beneficial form, this requires a fairly complex, scientific explanation. Bear with me! It is worth hearing so we are going to break it down into understandable components. 

What are the different forms of folate?

There are basically two forms of folate that have different roles in the body. The first being tetrahydrofolate (THF) and the second being methyl-tetrahydrafolate (Me-THF). THF enters a pathway for cell growth. We need it for healthy red blood cells, development of the spinal cord and many other functions relating to cell turnover. Me-THF is necessary for the methylation cycle which is crucial in regulating gene expression, liver detoxification and brain health. In order for the initial form to be converted into the latter there is an important enzyme called MTHFR. This enzyme must be fully functional for this conversion process to occur. 

MTHFR mutation:

Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population has a gene mutation preventing MTHFR from fully functioning which means Me-THF does not get converted from THF. This is not an issue if you are consuming folate from natural sources. Yet, most individuals get folate in the folic acid form. Folic acid gets converted into THF and because it’s synthetic it gets upregulated more quickly than natural sources. If someone does not have a functioning MTHFR enzyme, THF is not converted into MeTHF.  

Two things then happen. First, the methylation cycle is impaired which can lead to a variety of adverse effects. Secondly, THF keeps getting shuttled into being used for cell growth. Excess cell growth can potentially lead to unregulated cell growth, which is cancer. Unless you get genetic testing done there is no way of knowing if you have the MTHFR mutation. It’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid folic acid. 

What are alternatives to folic acid?

If you need to take a supplement the best form is methyl-tetrahydrofolate (look for this on the label). If it doesn’t have the methyl group then best to be avoided. 

Better yet - get folate from natural sources. Leafy greens, broccoli, liver and brussel sprouts are all rich sources of this B-vitamin. 

What should be avoided? 

Folic acid is in everything. You want to avoid supplements with folic acid, fortified cereals and fortified grains. They all have folic acid added. 

Remember, in relation to our health, this is a long game. Make smart choices for your body now to ensure it functions optimally into your future.