Today’s health lesson is brought to you by the letter F! While both folate and folic acid are sources of vitamin B9 – and their names sound similar when you say them three times fast – there are important distinctions between the two.
Keep reading to learn about the differences and benefits, and what you need to know about how vitamin B9 can benefit your body.
What is Vitamin B9?
Of course, you can’t discuss either of these without first discussing vitamin B9 – or all of the B vitamins, really – and how these vitamins can help your body.
All of the B vitamins (often referred to as B-complex vitamins) can be beneficial for:
- Your liver
- Your nervous system
- Healthy red blood cell formation
- Burning fat
- Using protein as energy
Additionally, vitamin B9 works together with vitamins B6 and B12 to keep levels of the amino acid homocysteine in check, which may help support a healthy heart.
One of the most important things to remember is that all B vitamins are water soluble – which means your body can’t store them for long periods of time. Because of this, it’s essential to replenish your supply of vitamin B9. You can do this by eating foods rich in folate and folic acid, or by taking supplements.1,2
Folic Acid vs Folate: What’s the Difference?
While both folic acid and folate are important sources of vitamin B9, there is one major difference between the two: Folic acid is a synthetic source of vitamin B9, whereas folate occurs naturally in foods.
What is Folate?
Simply put, folate is naturally occurring vitamin B9. It is found in dark leafy greens and in already nutrient-rich foods like avocado, salmon, asparagus, and oranges. Often, the levels found in the average adult diet can be enough to fulfill the daily recommended intake of 400 mcg.3
For women who are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, it is suggested to double that daily intake to 800 mcg.
This is when folic acid supplements can be useful.
When consumed through foods, folate is absorbed through your digestive system, and your body naturally converts it into methyltetrahydrofolate, which is the active form. Because it occurs naturally, it’s more easily absorbed in your small intestine than its synthetic counterpart, folic acid.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid (also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid) is the synthetic supplement for Vitamin B9. If you’re having trouble keeping your body’s folate levels high through diet alone, this is where folic acid comes in to help.
As it turns out, folic acid is added to many processed foods, like cereal and bread, in an effort to fortify those items with more nutrients. However, your body can’t convert folic acid into active folate quickly. Because of this, folic acid needs to be taken along with vitamin B6 to help your body make this conversion.4
Get to Know Methyltetrahydrofolate
It’s also important to consider 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (or MTHF for short). Essentially, MTHF is the activated version of the folates, which your body is supposed to be able to convert on its own. If your body can’t convert correctly, taking an MTHF supplement can help. This allows you to reap the benefits, even if you have trouble processing folate naturally and have a deficiency.
Proper absorption of folate through an MTHF supplement can be particularly helpful if you are predisposed to digestive issues, cardiovascular deficiencies, or if you’re trying to get pregnant.5
The Benefits of a Folate-Rich Diet
Whether you get your vitamin B9 naturally or synthetic, there are many benefits to your diet. At its most basic function, folate helps your body produce red blood cells.6 This can help prevent serious illness, and it can promote better-functioning organs.
→ Folate is known to help support female reproductive wellness and encourage healthy fetal development.7
→ Maintaining good levels allows your body to burn fat and protein easier, which can help keep your metabolism healthy.8
→ Some research has linked healthy levels to healthy heart function.9
→ Certain studies show that a folate-rich diet may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration in women.10
→ Folate is linked to boosting your mood, as well as maintaining healthy brain function as you age.11,12
Folate and Folic Acid: Friends Forever?
While the source can differ drastically between different foods and nutritional supplements, one thing is for sure: adding and monitoring your vitamin B9 levels is essential for maintaining so many aspects of your health and wellness. So, try to incorporate some of these foods into your diet more often!
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