Folate Vs Folic Acid: What’s The Difference

Folate and folic acid are both forms of the essential nutrient vitamin B9. Although they are similar, there are some fundamental differences between folate vs folic acid. In fact, both are often confused and used interchangeably, even by nutritionists and healthcare professionals. We’re going to reveal what the scientific research says, about the differences between folate and folic acid.

What Is Folate 

Folate is the naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient, which serves many critical functions in the human body, such as cell growth, cell division, and DNA formation or methylation.

Folate refers to a group of related compounds, with similar nutritional properties, which include dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), and the active form of vitamin B9 known as levomefolic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). Folate is converted into 5-MTHF in your digestive system prior to entering your blood stream [R].

Research has shown that women of childbearing age, need increased amounts of folate, to avoid folate deficiency during pregnancy. Folate deficiency can contribute to low birth weight and neural tube defects. This is the reason why most prenatal vitamins include folate as a key ingredient.

What Is Folic Acid

Unlike folate which naturally occurs in foods, folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 commonly found as a food additive and in dietary supplements. Unlike folate, folic acid is not considered an active compound and not all folic acid is converted to 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) to perform all of its essential functions, and is instead converted in the liver as opposed to the gut [R].     

Folate Vs Folic Acid: Differences And Similarities

Unlike folate, folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9, added to processed foods and supplements. In 1998, the FDA required that grain products such as (such as bread, pasta, rice, and cereal) be “enriched, or fortified” with folic acid. The goal was to help prevent certain birth defects, including neural tube defects, or NTD’s. Fortifying foods with folic acid, is mandatory in many countries due to this reason.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9 and is readily absorbed more rapidly directly by the gut, into the blood stream.

Both folic acid and folate have very similar functions, assisting in cell division and DNA methylation.

Folate Vs Folic Acid: Side Effects

Research has shown that high intakes of folic acid may lead to increased adverse effects, such as increased risk of cancer. Research also indicates that there may be a link between elevated homocysteine (a marker for an increased risk for arteriosclerosis) and folate deficiency [R]. Because so many foods are fortified with folic acid, however, deficiency is relatively uncommon.

Folate Rich Foods

It’s always best to get critical micronutrients through your diet. Folate is naturally found in a wide variety of foods including liver, spinach, avocado, dark leafy greens, asparagus, and brussels sprouts. Eating a well-rounded nutritious diet full of leafy greens, will ensure you get all of your daily micronutrients, and essential vitamins and minerals in addition to folate.

Folate Vs Folic Acid: Takeaway

Although they often get confused, folate is different than folic acid. Folate is naturally occurring in foods found in your diet, as compared to folic acid which is synthesized and commonly found as a food additive in foods such as pasta, bread, and packaged goods as well as dietary supplements. Both folate and folic acid are crucial in many biological functions, namely cell division and DNA formation. Since the fortification of foods with folic acid in 1998, there have been an average of 1300 babies that are not born with neural tube defects each year, decreasing the birth prevalence of NTDs by 35%. Folate and folic acid offer unique benefits and can help mitigate the risk of birth defects, and are needed for critical biological activity.


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