FOLATE VERSUS FOLIC ACID - THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS NUTRIENT FOR FERTILITY AND PREGNANCY.
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
The importance of folate during preconception and pregnancy has hit the headlines, and for a good reason! Nutrition forms the basis for healthy fertility and pregnancy. During the preconception window, your micronutrients come into play as they directly impact the development of sperm and eggs and your child's future health. B9/folate is just one of those fundamental nutrients.
What is folate, and why is it important?
Folate is an essential nutrient that functions as a coenzyme to assist in multiple body reactions, including the synthesis of DNA and cell growth. When making a baby, it is essential to optimise folate status in the three months before conception. A folate deficiency can lead to recurrent miscarriages. For pregnant women, folate is particularly important for healthy fetal development and preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Folate versus Folic Acid
The primary and naturally occurring form of B9 is folate which is found in many natural foods. In contrast, folic acid is the synthetic, fully-oxidised form produced commercially and found in vitamin supplements and fortified foods.
The problem with folic acid?
Unlike folate, not all of the folic acid you consume is converted into the active form of vitamin B9, 5-MTHF, in your digestive system. Instead, it needs to be converted in your liver or other tissues. In addition, around 40-60% of the UK population carry one or more of the MTHFR "snip". The concern is that individuals with a "snip" cannot correctly process the synthetic form of folate, folic acid (and other b vitamins), which we know is problematic for fertility and pregnancy.
How much folate do we need in preconception and during pregnancy?
In the lead-up to pregnancy, a diet rich in leafy greens and a high-quality prenatal with 200-400mcg/daily folate is a good starting point. During pregnancy, you have increased demands, so your intake will be around 400-600mcg/daily. If you are struggling to conceive, it is important to seek advice from a fertility specialist, as your needs may differ.
The word folate derivatives from the word "foliage", which makes sense as those foods richest in folate are leafy greens like spinach, kale, and broccoli. Other food sources rich in folate are beans, lentils, meats, and seafood. Therefore, consuming these foods regularly will help naturally support your levels of this critical vitamin, alongside supplementation.
Tips for getting in your folate-rich foods:
Add to your morning smoothie a large handful of spinach (58 mcg of folate).
Add to your lunch 1 cup of kale (263 mcg of folate), along with 1 cup of chickpeas (72 mcg)
Snack on one ounce (28 grams) of walnuts (28 mcg of folate)
Add to your supper 4 spears of asparagus (85 mcg of folate) and a fillet of wild-caught salmon (7.92 mcg folate) on a bed of cooked quinoa (77.7 mcg of folate).
Total folate content: 591.62mcg - that's pretty good, hey?!
Can I test for genetic variations and folate status?
Absolutely! Many companies provide genetic screening to understand if/where you have snips. My go-to is DNA life. When checking B9 levels, you can request a test with your GP or look to test privately with companies such as medichecks.
If you know you have the MTHF "snips", or if you have had a child with neural tube defects or if you and your partner have experienced recurrent miscarriages, you must seek support from your doctor or fertility specialist to make sure you are understanding your levels and are supplementing with the suitable form/dose appropriately.
If you have any questions about supplementation, forms and dosage, get in touch today!