Folate Vs Folic Acid: Which Is Better

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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In the regular debate of folate vs folic acid, there are many similarities, but a few key differences that you should understand.

Folate vs Folic Acid

Folate and folic acid are two sides of the same coin – vitamin B9, but their differences are important and may influence which type you choose to use.

Form

  • Folate: It is the natural form of vitamin B9.
  • Folic acid: It is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, and is also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid.
Folate and Folic Acid foods

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folates. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Sources

  • Folate: This can be found in various foods, such as asparagus, avocado, broccoli, peas, spinach, and liver. While some foods are fortified with folate, that is far less common than the foods being artificially fortified with folic acid.
  • Folic acid: You will find it mainly as a supplement or added to processed food products which are labeled “enriched”, such as breakfast cereals, pasta, and bread. This is the type of vitamin B9 that is used to fortify foods in many parts of the world, particularly in places like the United States and Canada, where it is actually required that foods be fortified.

Metabolization In Body

  • Folate: Before this version of the vitamin enters the bloodstream, it is converted into an active form within the digestive system, with the help of certain key enzymes. Folate is absorbed and metabolized by the body at a rather rapid rate, so there isn’t an excess of non-metabolized folate flowing around the body.
  • Folic acid: The problem is that folic acid is not metabolized in the digestive system, like folate. Instead, folic acid must be moved to the liver, where enzymatic reactions can begin to generate an active form. However, this is a slow process, resulting in high levels of non-metabolized folic acid in the bloodstream.

Which Is Better?

  • The healthiest source of vitamin B9 is folate since it is a naturally-occurring form of the vitamin and is easily metabolized by the body. On the other hand, folic acid build-up can happen very easily in the body.
  • Folic acid has been traditionally prescribed as a supplement before conception and during early pregnancy as it helps protect newborns from neural tube defects. However, most foods are now being fortified with folic acid.
  • A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that non-metabolized folic acid may have adverse effects on the body such as an increased risk of prostate cancer.
  • Furthermore, for pregnant women eating high folic acid foods and supplementing with folic acid, this can generate an unhealthy level and various side effects.
  • The best solution is to access vitamin B9 through folate-rich foods such as leafy greens, and only take a folic acid supplement if recommended by your doctor.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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