There are many different forms of folate floating around. Between folate, folic acid, and methylfolate, it’s easy to get confused. And while many people think they’re all the same, not all forms of folate are created equal.
Some forms are more easily absorbed while others can actually be harmful in excess! This article will break down what folate is, why it’s important, the different forms of folate, and dig into the benefits of methylfolate in particular.
What is Folate?
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is a vital nutrient needed for healthy red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s not stored in the body and must be replenished daily. Since your body can’t produce folate, you must get it from food.
Food Sources of Folate
To get more folate on your plate, you’ll want to turn up the volume on these folate-rich foods:
- Dark leafy greens (especially spinach, romaine, & turnip greens)
- Brussel sprouts
- Beef Liver
- Sunflower seeds
- Citrus fruits (oranges in particular)
Ideally, everyone would get enough vitamin B9 by noshing on the whole foods listed above. However, many people suffer from digestive issues or have genetic mutations that impair the conversion of folate into its active form.
Plus, modern farming practices, soil depletion, and an abundance of highly processed food make it challenging to get enough folate.
Symptoms of Folate Deficiency
Since folate is vital to healthy red blood cell production, a deficiency can lead to anemia. Think you might be low on folate? Here are some symptoms of folate-deficiency anemia to watch out for:
- Muscle weakness
- Swollen tongue or mouth sores
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Gray hair
Low vitamin B9 is also linked with an increased risk of several chronic health conditions, including depression, heart disease, birth defects, and cancer. This is why many people opt for a folate supplement.
Folate vs. Folic Acid: What’s the Difference?
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in foods we covered earlier. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in some supplements and added to many processed foods.
For folic acid to be usable, it must be converted into its active form L-methylfolate. To do this, your body relies on the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). The trouble is up to 40% of the population carry variants of the MTHFR gene that impair their ability to convert folic acid into its active form.
If you have the MTHFR mutation or struggle with chronic digestive issues, taking folic acid can cause a buildup of unmetabolized folic acid, which can impair immune function.
What is Methylfolate?
Methylfolate, also known as L-methylfolate, is the active and natural form of vitamin B9. Because it’s already activated, methylfolate is more bioavailable than other forms of folate.
Is Methylfolate Better Than Folic Acid?
Compared to folic acid, methylfolate is a safer, more effective option. For starters, methylfolate is the only form of folate that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Plus, studies have found that high folic acid intake can mask or even aggravate symptoms of B12 deficiency.
Also, since methylfolate is already in its activated form, there are no dangers of unmetabolized folic acid. Methylfolate is also the only form of folate effective for carriers of the MTHFR variant.
Benefits of Methylfolate
1 – May Ease Depression
Numerous studies have found a link between depression and folate deficiency. In fact, it’s estimated that one-third of depressed people are low in folate! Research also shows methylfolate can be a helpful add-on to improve the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.
Methylfolate supports healthy mood and brain function by helping your body produce the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. That’s why taking a methylfolate supplement can act as a natural mood booster, especially for those with the MTHFR mutation who struggle with folate conversion.
2 – Supports Brain Health
Research shows people with a folate deficiency are more likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia. Some suspect this is due to the link between low folate levels and chronic inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of numerous chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease.
But there’s good news! Research finds that getting plenty of folate can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Taking methylfolate is an easy way to support optimal brain health for years to come.
3 – Promotes Heart Health
Folate helps metabolize the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine can lead to the formation of blood clots and even stroke! Research shows getting plenty of folate lowers homocysteine levels, reducing your risk of heart disease.
4 – Supports a Healthy Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your body requires more folate than usual. That’s because folate is needed for DNA replication and numerous enzymatic reactions – all uber important for fetal growth and development.
Research shows getting enough folate can reduce the risk of neural tube defects and other congenital abnormalities. It also decreases the chances of anemia, preterm birth, and pregnancy complications. That’s why most health care providers recommend eating a folate-rich diet and taking supplements like methylfolate during pregnancy.
5 – Reduces Cancer Risk
Research shows folate may play a role in reducing the risk of certain cancers. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who get enough folate are less likely to develop bladder, breast, cervical, esophageal, lung, pancreatic, and stomach cancers.
However, there’s a catch. Excessive folic acid intake can actually help cancer cells grow and spread. Who wants to take that gamble? That’s why when it comes to supplementation, you want to be choosy. Methylfolate is the safest way to snag all the benefits of folate without the dangers of unmetabolized folic acid.
Methyl folate is a very popular nutritional supplement that can improve your quality of life on many levels. It has become the most recommended option for folate supplementation and is a better option to folic acid, mainly due to the fact that low immune function has been found to be caused by unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream. Benefits of Methyl folate range from improved brain function and mood support to promoting heart health and reduced cancer risk.
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