Not all folic acids are created equal: how to choose the best?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not not reflect the opinions or views of Ovia Health.

Chances are that if you are a mom, or you are thinking about conceiving, you already know how important folic acid is. Its benefits to prevent birth defects such as neural tube defects are widely understood.

What you might not know is how many more benefits it has during pregnancy and beyond, and how important it is to choose a form of folic acid that actually works to prevent health issues and protect your baby’s health and your own.

Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that is normally found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, and peas. At its most fundamental level, Folic acid helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and it also helps prevent unwanted changes to DNA such as those that may lead to cancer.

If you are trying to get pregnant, taking a folic acid supplement ideally 3 months before conceiving is essential, since up to 90% of women don’t have adequate folate levels for maximum protection against neural tube defects.

During pregnancy, folic acid is the cornerstone for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. In fact, new research by the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore shows that taking folic acid at the time of conception can reduce the autism risk by 40%. Folic acid is also key in the process to develop healthy blood cells in your baby, well beyond the first trimester. It also has benefits to your health, since folate is essential to metabolize other vitamins and nutrients, helping you prevent anemia and maintain a healthy metabolic function throughout pregnancy.

In adults, adequate intakes of folate may protect against certain cancers, including those of the breast, gut, lung and pancreas. This is likely because of folate’s role in gene expression — controlling when genes are turned on or off. Low folate levels can cause this process to go awry, increasing the risk of abnormal cell growth. Folic acid can also contribute to heart health by lowering homocysteine, an inflammatory molecule linked to the development of heart disease.

The most important thing you need to know about folic acid is that not all forms are the same: the type of folic acid you are taking makes all the difference. Why? Because up to 40% of women carry a gene variation that interferes with our ability to properly absorb and metabolize standard folic acid. Therefore, the most common prenatal supplements might not be as effective for you.

That’s why the Healthynest formula has an advanced form of folic acid called methyltetrahydrofolic acid, that is the most bio available and biologically active form of folate.

For the geeks out there, if you are interested to learn more about the mechanism behind this, here’s what you need to know: Folic acid and also food folate are not biologically active and need to be converted to the metabolically active 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). This happens through a multi-steps process where the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) plays a key role. Some individuals, due to their unique genetic patterns and expression, have forms of this enzyme that do not produce adequate or effective MTHFR. By providing methyltetrahydrofolate in its nutritionally active form, we bypass these steps and allow the body to absorb and metabolize it efficiently.

In addition, Folic acid works closely with vitamin B12 in making healthy red blood cells and helps iron function properly in the body. That’s why you should consider always taking the right form of folic acid in combination with the appropriate amounts of the vitamins and minerals that boost the power of folic acid, for their full synergistic benefits.

To take the guesswork out of knowing how much you need and when, at healthynest we have partnered with the most progressive scientific experts and doctors to create the only comprehensive prenatal supplement in the market that has decades of cutting-edge research, and is adapted to the unique and changing needs of each trimester.

Learn more

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data (NHANES). Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Prevention of the First Occurrence of Neural-Tube Defects by Periconceptional Vitamin Supplementation. Czeizel, Andrew E., and Istvan Dudas. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey 48.6 (1993): 395-397.
  • Prevention of neural-tube defects with folic acid in China. Berry, Robert J., et al. New England Journal of Medicine 341.20 (1999): 1485-1490.
  • Pre-conception folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the primary and secondary prevention of neural tube defects and other folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 37.6 (2015): 534-549.
  • Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96.1 (2012): 80-89. Schmidt, Rebecca J., et al.
  • Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. JAMA 309.6 (2013): 570-577. Surén, Pål, et al.
  • Abnormal transmethylation / transsulfuration metabolism and DNA hypomethylation among parents of children with autism. James SJ, Melnyk S, Jernigan S, Hubanks A, Rose S, Gaylor DW. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Nov; 38 (10):1966-75.
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – Folate Guidelines, Updated March 21, 2019
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