Folate vs. Folic Acid

It’s no secret that the 8 “B” Vitamins, also known as B Complex, are vitally important for our bodies. Not only do they promote healthy skin, strengthen our immune system, help convert food into energy, affect mood by helping to create neurotransmitters – but several B vitamins play important roles during pregnancy. Vitamin B7, biotin, helps with the growth of embryos, while folate can help prevent miscarriages and neural tube defects. 

It is often recommended to supplement folate or folic acid (often in a prenatal vitamin) prior to conception and during pregnancy. However, from a genetic standpoint, not everybody can use the synthetic version of folate, folic acid. That being said, always consult your health care provider before taking any supplements or making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

Synthetic vitamins 

So, what are synthetic vitamins? Synthetic vitamins or synthetic nutrients are artificially made and essentially mimic the reaction our bodies have to natural vitamins. Many, if not most, of the supplements available today are actually synthetic, so it is important to make sure that you are buying natural vitamins – which are derived from food sources.

Now this may not seem terribly important, as long as your body is getting the nutrients it needs, it shouldn’t matter if the source is synthetic or natural, right? That is not necessarily the case. Many experts do not believe that synthetic vitamins have the same benefits as their natural counterparts and some believe that may actually cause damage.

Folate’s Role During Pregnancy

Folate plays an important role in developing the nervous system and during pregnancy it helps the baby’s neural tube develop into their brain and spine. Essentially, folate helps prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects including spina bifida. Many birth defects occur within the first 3 – 4 weeks of pregnancy, so women are encouraged to start supplementing folate in these early stages of pregnancy or even before conception.

So, this is all sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Start taking folic acid while you’re trying to conce or when you first become pregnant and you can help your baby during this crucial development period – but once again, there are some questions surrounding the efficacy of synthetic vitamins.

Folic Acid

Enter folic acid, which is the synthetic version of Vitamin B9, folate. This is likely the version of folate that is in your multivitamin or prenatal vitamin. The potential issue with folic acid lies in the fact that our bodies must first convert folic acid to its natural form, methylfolate to be able to use it. As the study of genetics and specifically, genetic abnormalities are becoming more prevalent, some studies are suggesting that not everyone is able to convert folic acid into a usable form. This can lead to a folate deficiency, which as we can see is crucial during pregnancy.

Aside from having genetic testing done to determine if you can properly convert folic acid, the simple solution is to choose a supplement that contains “methylfolate” in the ingredients and steer clear of anything that says folic acid. There are many foods that are high in folate as well, so you can always get your nutrients naturally.

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