Folate supplementation is one of the first recommendations made by health professionals to any woman planning to have a baby or who is at the early stages of pregnancy. There are a lot of concepts to take on when starting your pregnancy journey. Women are often thrown head first into sets of rules and advice on what you should and should not eat or do. There’s a lot of noise out there!
Folate is a nutrient involved in many body processes. One of its most important roles is in the development of baby’s nervous system. When it comes to choosing a folate supplement, there are a lot of options out there. Many women ask me what the difference between folic acid and folate is and whether they can get enough in their food. So I thought I would wrap all up into one snappy blog post for you all.
What is folate?
Discovered in 1941, and its name comes from ‘folium’ which is Latin for ‘leaf’. Folate is a naturally occurring B-vitamin (vitamin B9) found in plenty in raw, green leafy vegetables and to a lesser extent in organ meat.
The tricky part is, it is very sensitive to heat. So a bed of steamed spinach – while beautifully healthy – has very little folate left.
Due to this slight handicap, scientists developed a synthetic version called folic acid which proved to be much more heat stable. Folic is what is still used to fortify many breads and cereals in Western countries.
Us humans have evolved eating a diet rich in raw greens. As a result, our nutritional requirements for folate are high. Research has shown that even fortification of folic acids in breads and cereals is not enough for modern pregnant women to get the optimal amount to prevent pregnancy complication.
Why is folate essential in pregnancy?
Folate plays an essential role in DNA synthesis.
Quick biology lesson!
DNA is genetic material found in every single cell in our bodies. It is our unique recipe book of information that tells the body how to function. We inherit half from our mum and a half from our dad. The process of growing a baby involves a lot of cells multiplying and growing! For all those cells to be healthy and developed proper DNA synthesis needs to occur.
If this step is not completed, it can lead to complications including neural tube defects (also called spina bifida), cleft lip and learning disabilities in baby.
For mumma, it can be a risk factor for preeclampsia and miscarriage.
In short, it is a very very important nutrient!
When should I begin taking folate?
If you’re planning on having a baby in the next 3-6 months, you can start now.
The general recommendation is to start one month before trying to conceive and to continue throughout pregnancy. The most crucial window being in those first two months.
What type of folate should I take?
There are a handful of different folate supplements out there on the market, some superior to others.
Folic acid was the first synthetic version of folate produced. The benefits are it is cheap and widely available.
Research and more sophisticated methods of manufacture have produced two other forms that are “activated folate”. "Activated" means our bodies are better able to absorb them and put them to use. These are folinic acid and methyl-tetrahydrofolate (MTHF) – now say that one five times! I recommend taking one of these two.
Some people lack an enzyme that allows them to convert folic acid or folinic acid into the active form (MTHF). Knowing if this deficiency applies to you is something that requires a formal diagnosis, and there are other symptoms involved.
If a woman has a history of infertility or miscarriage, I would recommend that she has this enzyme checked by either a naturopath or holistic doctor.
How much folate should I be taking?
500 – 1000mcg of folate is recommended (The Royal Women’s Hospital Australia, 2016).
Also make sure you are eating a diverse, healthy diet and getting plenty of natural folates too. Think lovely big green salads, raw kale or spinach in smoothies and cold-pressed green juices.
Where do I find activated folate?
The companies that I recommend are (please note I don’t have any affiliation with these companies, I just like their products):
Bioceuticals: Folinic Acid or Methyltetrahydrofolate.
Thorne Research’s: Basic Pre-Natal and 5-MTHF.
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