Chances are you’ve heard that folic acid is good for you … or was it folate? Aren’t they the same thing, vitamin B9? Nope, and there is a lot of confusion roaming around this topic even among healthcare professionals.
Here’s why this inaccuracy can have terrible consequences: Recent studies show that folic acid has been linked to autism.
WHAT IS VITAMIN B9?
Vitamin B9 (a.k.a. folate) is a water-soluble vitamin used in just about every process in the body to break down and build, using proteins with the help of vitamins B12 and C.
Functions of Vitamin B9
Folate is needed in the synthesis of red and white blood cells. It helps produce DNA, the building block of the human body which carries genetic information.
Folate is also needed to enhance brain health and prevent hearing loss.
Deficiency Of Vitamin B9
A deficiency of vitamin B9 during pregnancy leads to neural tube defects. A deficiency of it in children and adults leads to:
- growth and neurological problems
- low immunity
- muscle weakness
- extreme fatigue
- short of breath
- ringing in the ears
- thyroid problems
- disturbed vision and psychological problems including anxiety, depression and confusion.
Causes of Vitamin B9 Deficiency
Some of the reasons why people are deficient in folate:
Diseases in which folic acid is not well-absorbed in the digestive system (such as Celiac or Crohn diseases).
Pernicious anemia, where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, preventing proper absorption of nutrients from the food you eat.
Excessive consumption of alcohol
Not eating sufficient fresh fruits and vegetables (folate can be easily destroyed by heat).
Taking certain medications, including anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can reduce absorption of nutrients in the body.
FOLATE VS FOLIC ACID: THE GOOD AND THE BAD FORMS OF VITAMIN B9
Both folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9, but this doesn’t mean they are equally good for you.
Folate is the form of vitamin B9 that’s found naturally in different foods. It was named after the Latin word for leaf, “folium”, and this is a perfect reflection of the natural sources of this substance: leafy vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Folate is also found in legumes, seeds, and some animal products (the liver is the best source).
The active form of vitamin B9 is known as levomefolic acid (or 5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid), and the human digestive system is very efficient in transforming natural folate into active B9.
Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of B9. The problem is that the human gut isn’t very good in metabolizing folic acid into active B9, so a lot of residual folic acid enters the blood unchanged.
People are taught that there’s no harm in taking water-soluble vitamins, and that excess will just be excreted in the urine if not needed. Well, this is not the case with synthetic folic acid.
DANGERS OF EXCESS FOLIC ACID IN THE BLOOD
Part of the folic acid that you consume will be metabolized by the liver and other tissues, but this process is slow and inefficient.
The result is obvious: at any given moment, you have a lot of pure, synthetic folic acid circulating in your blood stream, if your daily intake of folic acid is over 200 mcg (especially if you also eat fortified products and other synthetic supplements).
Excess folic acid circulating in your blood stream hogs the receptor sites on cells where folate is needed, causing a deficiency, and causing all the symptoms discussed above.
And this is why it gets bad when you’re pregnant!
FOLIC ACID TAKEN DURING PREGNANCY LINKED TO AUTISM IN CHILDREN
Some years ago, scientists noticed that the incidence of autism increased at the same time with the worldwide policy of increasing folic acid supplementation. A coincidence on a planetary scale? That would be very unlikely, so doctors and scientists started digging into the matter.
However, studies showed mixed results: some researches reported that folic acid increases the risk of developing autism (by up to 2.5 times) while others claimed it protected from autism.
Here’s a list of what has been discovered so far:
- Nearly all folate (from natural sources) is quickly metabolized into active vitamin B9, while synthetic folic acid is used up much slower.
- When the daily intake of folic acid (NOT folate) is more than 200 mcg, unmetabolized folic acid is found in the blood. This includes the blood that goes through the umbilical cord during pregnancy.
- A lot of women take more folic acid than recommended during pregnancy (supplements plus fortified products).
- Animal studies indicate that high levels of folic acid during gestation increased anxiety and hyperactivity in offspring, as well as caused other changes in behavior.
- Synthetic folic acid is able to significantly impair the normal development and activity of nerve cells and the formation of connections between them.
(All numbers sourced from the USDA Food Composition Database)
(mcg / 100 g)
|How much to eat to meet daily dose
|Duck liver, raw||738||54|
|Chicken liver, raw||588||68|
|Wheat germ, crude||281||142|
|Roasted sunflower seed kernels||238||168|
|Kidney beans, boiled||130||308|
|Egg, whole, hard-boiled||44||909|