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A common misconception is that people (especially women) need "Folic Acid." They don't. Folic Acid is the synthetic version of Folate, which is found abundantly in various plants. Folic Acid is a synthetic chemical made in a lab.
Often medical professionals, nutrition experts, and health practitioners mix up the two and use the two terms interchangeably. They are not the same.
Many health professionals even argue that folate and folic acid are essentially the same nutrient. That Folic Acid is the supplemental form of Folate. Unless a woman is pregnant or intending to get pregnant she does not need much Folate. And, no one should be taking folic Acid because it has been proven that the synthetic form of this nutrient is harmful.
What’s the difference between Folate and Folic Acid?
Folate or "B9" is a general term for a group of water soluble b-vitamins and refers to the various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally found in food, whereas Folic acid refers to the oxidized synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food "fortification" or "enrichment."
When consumed, Folate enters the main folate metabolic cycle (in the mucosa of the small intestine) tetrahydrofolate (THF). Folic Acid however, undergoes initial reduction and methylation in the liver, where conversion to the THF form requires dihydrofolate reductase (a liver enzyme). The low activity of this enzyme in the human liver, combined with a high intake of folic acid, usually results in unhealthy levels of unmetabolized folic acid within the systemic circulation.
Studies have shown the presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood following the consumption of folic acid supplements or fortified foods.
Humans were not exposed to the folic acid chemical prior to 1943. Then in 1998 was made a mandatory food fortification due to overwhelming evidence for the protective effect of folate before conception and during early pregnancy on the development of neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns.
One of the major risks associated with excessive intake of folic acid is the development of cancer. In patients with ischemic heart disease in Norway, where there is no folic acid fortification of foods, treatment with folic acid plus vitamin B12 was associated with increased cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality. In the United States, Canada, and Chile, the institution of a folic acid supplementation program was associated with an increased prevalence of colon cancer. A randomized control trial found that that daily supplementation with 1 mg of folic acid was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Researchers have speculated that the increased consumption of folic acid in fortified foods may be directly related to the increase in cancer rates. Excess folic acid may stimulate the growth of established neoplasms, which can eventually lead to cancer. The presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood is associated with decreased immune rejection of cancer cells, which would suggest another way in which excess folic acid may effectively promote existing cancer growth.
A high intake of folic acid has been reported to mask the detection of vitamin B12 deficiency and lead to a deterioration of central nervous system function in the elderly. Because vitamin B12 deficiency is a common problem for many older adults, these studies suggest that high folic acid intake could cause serious cognitive consequences in the elderly.
Adequate Folate intake from the consumption of folate-rich foods is essential for health. Folate aids the complete development of red blood cells, reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood, and supports nervous system function. It is well known for its role in preventing neural tube defects in newborns, so women of childbearing age must be sure to have an adequate intake prior to and during pregnancy.
Excellent sources of dietary Folate include vegetables such as romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and lentils. Avoid products that say “Folic Acid” on the label. Make sure to check your multivitamin, because most multivitamins contain Folic Acid and not Folate.
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