The new hype around methylation and Folic Acid vs. Folate...
Women in the midst of family planning are hearing that they should have concerns about methylation, folate, and folic acid.
What does it all mean? Is it important information for everyone or just some women?
Let’s clear up some information around the discussions on folic acid and methylation.
Folate is from the family of B vitamins. It is B9 but rarely called this. It is found in nature and can be eaten in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables. It plays a critical role in proper neural tube formation in the first trimester. The neural tube is the precursor to the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord.
Folate deficiencies are well known and include fatigue, shortness of breath, and lethargy. These deficiencies can also create an anemia, wherein there are not enough properly formed red blood cells. Folate deficiencies during pregnancy can cause issues in the fetus, even leading to developmental abnormalities with baby’s brain and/or spinal cord. Folate deficiency is also partly responsible for cleft palate.
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, and is often used synonymously, though the two are quite different.
Many cereal and bread companies started to add folic acid to their foods (likely in an effort to either increase nutritional value or increase sales; or more likely an attempt at the latter via the former). There is some evidence that this practice reduces the overall incidence of developmental complications in babies. However, there is now concern that folic acid (again, the synthetic version) may have long term side effects if used at continued high doses. While many countries around the world mandate folic acid supplementation in foods, there is little evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks.
So where does methylation come into play?
Methylation is the action of the body to move a methyl group. This is a chemical reaction that takes places consistently throughout the body’s tissues. Moving a methyl group on and off of other chemical compounds allows necessary cellular chemistry to occur. In this case, it is allowing the body access to folate and aiding proper usage of it.
Some people have a diminished ability to methylate due to a mutation within their genetics - one cannot improve their methylation ability. Poor methylators can have complications with fertility - including miscarriage - or cardiac health issues. Clotting, detoxification pathways, and nutrient deficiencies all can present when methylation is not optimized. Poor methylation can lead to poor absorption or the inability to use folic acid (again, synthetic!).
What does this mean?
Most pregnant women have been instructed to take a prenatal vitamin, which specifically contains either folate or folic acid. But as we’ve just discussed, many are unable to use folic acid. Poor methylation can lead to folate/folic acid deficiencies and symptoms even when people are taking some form of supplementation. Women taking a better form of folate should have their nutrient levels checked as well. Oftentimes, upon testing, women are surprised to see their lower than anticipated lab results. These can be women that have healthy lifestyles, but, unfortunately, at times, genetic mutations can be quite strong. Being aware of additional nutrition needs or care during early pregnancy allows for women to make specific and beneficial educated choices regarding their nutrient levels and needs.
As this can be a complicated scenario, I recommend working with a knowledgeable health care practitioner to learn about one’s methylation status and replenishing the tissues appropriately. In the meantime, pre-methylated nutrients are the way to go to help the body out. Kick that folic acid to the curb and look for L-methylfolate in your prenatal vitamin.
For more assistance, book a BIRTHFIT Nutrition consult with me today!