Skip to content

Folic Acid Or Folacin Is Not the Same As Natural Folate

January 28, 2013

Folate[R]ecently accumulating research has found that supplemental folic acid since its synthetic crystallization in the 1940s, may actually accelerate cognitive decline in some older individuals. It’s also being linked to increased risk of colon and rectal cancers, increased risk of childhood asthma born to folic-acid supplemented mothers, and accelerated growth of pre-existing cancers.

There’s enough research that Reader’s Digest magazine recently published an article warning readers about the dangers of too much folic acid [now also called  folacin.] Unfortunately, the article showed that not only journalists, but even medical professionals still haven’t figured out that folic acid is not the same as the naturally occurring vitamin folate.

According to the article, a university-affiliated medical doctor stated: “We’ve known for years that getting too little folate can promote cancer. Now it looks like getting too much folic acid could be harmful too.”

[F]olic acid [or folacin] is not the same as folate!

Folic acid is a single type of molecule, crystallized in 1943 by a scientist working for the patent medicine company Lederle Laboratories, then a subsidiary of American Cyanamid Corporation. Folic acid is the fully oxidized form of naturally occurring folates, which are found in leafy and green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, romaine, lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. Other sources include corn, beets, tomatoes, dried or fresh beans and peas, fortified sunflower seeds and some fruits, including oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, banana, raspberries, and strawberries. Liver (only organic, of course) and brewer’s and baker’s yeasts are good sources of folate, too.

But none of these vegetables, fruits, liver or yeast naturally contain even one molecule of folic acid.

Folate was originally isolated from brewer’s yeast and spinach in the 1930s. Once isolated and exposed to air it becomes unstable and breaks down, and is generally no longer useful in nutrition. But a small amount of natural folate can be transformed by oxidation (a natural process) into folic acid, a much more stable form with a very long shelf life.

While human and animal cells cannot use the folic acid molecule itself in their normal metabolic processes, human cells (principally the liver) can transform folic acid back into many of its metabolically useful folate forms. That’s why folic acid can do so much nutritional good.

As we grow older, though, our bodies are increasingly slow at transforming folic acid into usefully metabolized folates. That’s probably why scientists are finding that folic acid (not folate) is associated with cognitive decline in the elderly. Some of these studies have shown significantly elevated levels of un-metabolized (and therefore not useful) folic acid building up in the bloodstreams of supplemented older individuals.

In addition to worsening folic acid metabolism with age, there are also a significant number of defects of folate metabolism which make it more difficult or, in some circumstances, impossible for sufferers to make metabolic use of folic acid.

[B]y great good luck, folic acid does do some good. It can be re-metabolized into various metabolically useful forms in most people—particularly younger people. So of course folic acid is promoted as a vitamin—even though it’s not found naturally in food—and manufacturers happily encourage everyone to speak of it interchangeably with folate.

[S]ince the 1940s, when physicians wanted to give their patients supplemental folate, they were taught to start with folic acid under one or another brand name. [T]here was very little, if any, research into potential harm. But now that there is enough evidence of potential harm from folic acid, it’s time for all of us who want the benefits to switch back to the forms of folate found in food, which our bodies can use more efficiently and effectively than folic acid. Of course, we should always start by eating as much folate-containing food as possible, and as fresh as possible, too.

[N]aturally occurring folates break down quite rapidly with heat, cold, light, even when they’re still in the food. Because of this naturally rapid breakdown, even the most avid vegetable and fruit eaters often need folate supplementation. Fortunately, responsible supplement suppliers began to make individual folate (not folic acid) supplements available. Some suppliers have just started to include various forms of folate in multiple vitamins and other combinations.

A little bit of folic acid (100 to 200 micrograms, the amount found in many multiple vitamins at present) is not likely to be a problem, but more taken daily for years just might raise your long-term risk of colorectal cancer or cognitive decline. If higher amounts are unavoidable (for example, until all prenatal vitamins switch from folic acid to folate), taking additional folate will very likely offset the folic acid still found in the multiple. [C]onsult a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine.

One last point you may be wondering about: Is there such a thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to naturally occurring folate supplementation? Unless you have vitamin B12 deficiency or cancer, it’s very unlikely to be a problem. In the case of vitamin B12 deficiency, supplemented folate—even naturally occurring folate—can “cover up” some of the deficiency signs in blood tests. But preventing that is simple: Take extra vitamin B12 whenever you take extra folate! Some suppliers even combine the two, or put them with the rest of the B-complex vitamins.

[T]here’s an inexpensive but critically important blood test that’s too often overlooked. Although it’s simple, quick, and easy to do, many clinical laboratories don’t do it because there’s “no demand.” It’s called the “neutrophilic hypersegmentation index.” [I]t has been—and still is—the best test of your personal folate status. Not how your folate level compares with other peoples’, but how optimal your own level is.

To do that, the neutrophilic hypersegmentation index (NHI) determines what percentage of your neutrophils—a type of white blood cell—were supplied with an optimal amount of folate while they were growing and maturing.

Every woman who has any chance of becoming pregnant should have this test done! If it’s abnormal, and she’s planning on a pregnancy soon, she should take a series of folinic acid injections right away, preferably with the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12, so there’s enough folate (and B12) immediately available for any newly conceived infant. Why the rush? Well, the most common birth defect—neural tube defect—occurs on days 27–29 after conception, before many women are even certain that they are pregnant.

For the rest of us an abnormal NHI means you need to take a closer look at your diet and make some necessary adjustments—most notably adding in more sources of folate, particularly green vegetables, beans, peas, brewer’s yeast, and (organic only!) liver. A folinic acid or methylfolate supplement is important, too, at least until the test normalizes.

Source: http://tahomaclinicblog.com/folic-acid/

Advertisements
2 Comments
  1. This is interesting. Posey takes folic acid because she also takes Sulfasalazine, which I guess can make you deficient in folic acid? I am hoping in this case it is OK?! Thanks for the information!

    • Thanks. I have seen that doctors prescibe those together, but I do not know more than that. As I come across information I will post it. Btw, if there is an intolerance for regular food, does the synthetic folic acid work for you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: