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Should You Be Taking Folic Acid or Folate?

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Folic acid and folate play an important role in the body, especially during pregnancy. These two forms of vitamin B9 are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Understanding the differences between methylated folate and regular folic acid can help you determine which supplement is best for your individual needs and ultimately promote good health.

Folate and Folic Acid: The Crucial Distinction

At first glance, folate and folic acid might seem interchangeable, but they are different in their origin and how they are processed in the body.

Folate refers to a group of water-soluble B vitamins that occur naturally in foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables.

Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic compound used primarily in dietary supplements and fortified food products. The critical difference lies in how efficiently our bodies can metabolize these substances.

How the Body Processes Folate

Folates from dietary sources are complex molecules that undergo a series of enzymatic processes in the body. This conversion typically takes place in the intestines and the liver, where folates are turned into a form called 5-MTHF, which the body can use. 5-MTHF is the active form of folate that is most easily absorbed and utilized by the body.

In contrast, folic acid does not occur naturally in foods but is a synthetic form of folate. This means that it needs to be metabolized into 5-MTHF before the body can use it.

Is a Methylated Folate Supplement Better Than Folic Acid?

Despite its widespread presence in supplements and fortified foods like cereal, folic acid's relationship with our bodies is a bit more complicated.

Some researchers believe that overreliance on folic acid can cause a buildup of unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream, which may have negative health implications. This is because the body can only process a certain amount of folic acid at a time, and excess amounts may not be effectively converted into 5-MTHF.

In addition, some individuals have genetic variations that make it difficult for their bodies to convert folic acid into 5-MTHF. This could potentially lead to deficiencies in folate levels, even when consuming high amounts of folic acid.

The Benefits of Choosing Methylated Folate

On the other hand, choosing supplements with 5-MTHF can provide numerous benefits for our bodies. As mentioned earlier, methylated folate, or 5-MTHF, is the active form of folate that is most easily absorbed and utilized by the body.

Additionally, for those with a common gene variant, the MTHFR gene, the conversion of folic acid into a usable form, 5-MTHF, is further hindered. This can lead to a build-up of unconverted folic acid in the body, which has been linked to potential health issues.

By choosing supplements with methylated folate, individuals with this gene variation can bypass the conversion process. This is especially important for pregnant people, as sufficient levels of folate are crucial for proper fetal development.

In conclusion, while folic acid may be widely available and added to many foods, it is important for individuals with the MTHFR gene variation to choose methylated folate supplements to promote absorption and utilization in the body.

Signs You May Need a Methylated Folate Supplement

If you have a family history of heart disease, cognitive decline, or other health issues related to folate metabolism, it may be worth considering adding a methylated folate supplement to your daily routine.

Additionally, those with the MTHFR gene mutation may benefit from supplementation as their bodies cannot fully utilize folic acid.

For pregnant individuals, the CDC recommends taking a prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their newborns.

Expecting parents need to make sure they have enough folic acid in their diet—ideally from natural sources—and supplements are a cornerstone of prenatal care.

Beyond pregnancy, individuals with specific health conditions, vegetarians or vegans, and older adults may benefit from folic acid supplements.

Conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and certain medications may interfere with the body's ability to absorb folate, making supplementation a helpful approach.

Taking supplements with methylated folate instead of folic acid may help your body to absorb it better without the build-up.


In conclusion, the difference between folic acid and methylated folate isn't just semantics. Choosing the right form of vitamin B9, whether it’s folic acid or methylated folate, for your health needs could lead to better absorption and fewer health complications down the road.

When in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you to the best choice for your unique health profile.

The decision to supplement or not is deeply personal, but with the right information, you can make choices that support your health and wellness journey.