The Problem With Folic Acid


What is folic acid?

We hear it all the time when trying to conceive or during pregnancy: the importance of folic acid. Your doctor prescribes vitamins containing this, baby books talk about it, but what exactly is folic acid?

Folic acid is an oxidized synthetic compound of the vitamin Folate (B9). Humans did not ingest folic acid until the 1940’s when it was synthesized due to the overwhelming research that it prevented neural tube defects. Folic acid was then put in supplements and pushed by EVERYONE to take before and during pregnancy, it is even fortified in foods. 

There is research showing high levels of un-metabolized folic acid have been found in the blood, as well as a higher instance of colon cancer with the use of folic acid. Many of our foods are fortified with folic acid, including flour, cereals, and granola bars. Basically anything that is packaged has the possibility of being fortified with folic acid.

A better choice: Folate

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin B9 and that is found naturally in foods such as asparagus, avocados, brussels sprout, and leafy greens (spinach and lettuce).  We really should be eating plenty of folate, or take a methyl folate supplement instead of taking a folic acid supplement. Our bodies were made to digest folate and not the synthetic form (folic acid).

 What does folate do and how is it important during pre-conception and pregnancy?

Folate prevents neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are serious problems that can arise in utero with the spinal cord, such as spina bifida and even the brain (anencephaly).  These neural tube defects occur during the first 28 days of gestation that is why getting enough folate before you even become pregnant is very important. 

MTHFR and folic acid

When someone eats folic acid, our body uses the enzyme called MTHFR to make 5-methylenetetrahydrofolate. This is vital for different processes of the body such as: building cells, vital to serotonin and melatonin processes, converts homocysteine to methionine, and so much more! It is an INCREDIBLY important enzyme in the body.

When someone has a genetic mutation, such as with the MTHFR gene, they are unable to turn folic acid into a useable form to support the above processes! It can build up in your body and make you feel unwell. Many times patients with MTHFR mutation have anxiety, depression, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, digestive issues, etc. It is estimated that 40% of the world’s population has the MTHFR gene mutation, myself included. There are different types of the mutation, homozygous, heterozygous, and compound heterozygous. Each form can affect the amount of folic acid you can turn into the useable form (5-methylenetetrahydrofolate).

You can get tested for MTHFR, I highly recommend this if you are trying to conceive.  There are many options for testing, but the easiest and most affordable is 23 and me, and ancestry DNA. Once you have your raw data from the test, you can input the information into nutrahacker, nutrahacker will tell you which genetic mutations you have.

In Summary

Avoiding folic acid is good idea for anyone; even if you don’t have the MTHFR mutation as there is evidence our bodies do not synthesize folic acid well.

Making good choices on vitamins is key, they should contain methylated forms of B vitamins such as methyl folate and hydroxyl B12.

Add more leafy greens into your diet to get the best type of B9 (folate).

There are many physicians out there learning more and more about the MTHFR mutation. If you are interested in learning more about it, I recommend asking around your community to find a family doctor, chiropractor, or naturopath who is familiar with it and can guide you on your journey to wellness and being free of folic acid!

Supplement brands I like:

Well Labs

Seeking Health

Smarty Pants

Ortho Molecular