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Folate InformationFOLATE Vs. FOLIC ACID

Folate and Folic acid are considered essential B vitamins but they are NOT the same.

"Folate" has come to serve as an umbrella term for both the natural Folate and synthetic Folic Acid forms of vitamin B9 that may be found in food and dietary supplements. "Folate" and "Folic Acid" are names that are currently commonly used interchangeably. However, there are important differences and outcomes consequent to how the human body metabolises natural Folate and synthetic Folic Acid, and, to ensure public health and safety is maintained, this must be understood.

To obtain the benefits of the Vitamin, the human body requires both natural Folate and synthetic Folic Acid to be metabolised into another form of Folate, being 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-methyl THFA). This is created via different pathways and conversion processes depending on the form of the B vitamin consumed.

It is the metabolism of 5-methyl THFA that provides the benefits of the vitamin. 5-methyl THFA acts in the synthesis of a number of important chemicals in the body, including some amino acids and DNA. Because of its involvement in DNA synthesis, it is also essential to the formation and rapid division of cells, especially red blood cells and embryonic cells. Just before and during the early stages of pregnancy, greater amounts are required for the growth of embryonic and maternal tissues.

Natural Folate is the form of vitamin B9 naturally incorporated in foods such as spinach, asparagus, turnip, greens, lettuces, dried or fresh beans and peas, sunflower seeds and certain other fruits and vegetables. Baker's yeast, liver and liver products also contain high amounts of folate.
Some foods contain a small proportion of naturally derived folic acid, and the processing of some foods can convert natural folate to folic acid. Natural Folate is the form of the vitamin that the human body has evolved to metabolise most effectively. During the process of food digestion, natural Folate is converted by the gut mucosa and enzymes to 5-methyl THFA, which is then absorbed directly in to the blood.

Synthetic Folic Acid is the form of vitamin B9 which is found in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, fruit juices and dietary supplements. Synthetic Folic Acid is a bright yellow, crystalline, water soluble substance that is stable to heat but easily oxidized.
Synthetic Folic Acid is not metabolised in the same way as natural Folate. Multiple and complex chemical conversion steps are required to convert it to 5-methyl THFA.

The practical Differences:
It was earlier believed that Synthetic Folic Acid had a greater efficacy (quickly and completely absorbed by the body) when compared to natural Folate (only slowly and partially absorbed). However, recent research indicates this is an overly simplistic representation.

Natural Folate may be slowly absorbed but it is immediately metabolised to 5-methyl THFA. Recent studies have shown that whilst Synthetic" Folic Acid is more quickly absorbed through the gut and in to the blood than natural Folate, it must be further metabolised by a complex conversion process to become 5-methyl THFA. This process is performed in the liver, but the human liver is limited and individually very variable in its capability to convert Synthetic Folic Acid to 5-methyl THFA.

The result:
With continued dietary consumption of fortified foods and supplements, and through the low and variable rate of conversion by the liver, Folic Acid can persist and build up in the blood.

This un-metabolised Folic Acid provides none of the benefits of the Vitamin, and is believed to interfere with normal metabolic processes.

The degree of this interference and the associated risks are not yet fully understood or appreciated.

Recent research has associated the presence of persistent circulating un-metabolised Folic Acid in the blood with several previously unsuspected adverse health effects. No one has yet demonstrated the safety of the presence of persistent un-metabolised Folic Acid.

Information Source: Leading Edge Bakery & Food Service Journal