Updated: Jun 26
Folic acid has very successfully prevented many birth defects since it was added to flour in the 1990s. It’s in every loaf of bread you buy, in nearly every cereal and pretty much every multivitamin. However, there are dangers to taking this artificial vitamin that many people aren’t aware of.
If you want to skip the whys and wherefores and see my practical recommendations, scroll to the bottom of this blog.
Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate. Folate is considered part of the B vitamin family (sometimes called B9), and is essential for methylation. Methylation is a chemical process that goes on billions of times a second in our cells and is needed for almost every function of the body, including:
- Healthy DNA synthesis
- Making hormones,
- Neurotransmitter balance
The list goes on. We can’t do without it basically and no developing baby can do without it either, with folate deficiency in the mother (and consequent undermethylation) causing spina bifida and other neural tube defects.
So don’t get me wrong. Folic acid has been a vital addition to foods and supplements, particularly for pregnant women. However, the science has moved on and everyone should ideally avoid folic acid and take a supplement with the natural active version – folate.
The problem is that a significant proportion of people can do very little with folic acid. Folic acid has to be converted to folate in the body and many people lack the enzyme that allows them to do this properly. The result? Undermethylation and a nasty build up of folic acid in the body. You’ll see the signs in a standard doctor’s blood test, which will show unusually high levels of folic acid and elevated B12.
If you want to delve more into the whole subject of methylation and how nutrients can help get things working at the optimum, have a read of Nutrient Power by world renowned mental health expert, Dr William Walsh. Click on the link below to buy:
WHAT HAPPENED TO ME
A freakishly high level of folic acid in your blood does not mean you are super healthy; it means that your body doesn’t know how to use it so it just keeps circulating around and around.
This is what happened to me. I felt horrendously tired for months and months. Tests for coeliac disease, anaemia, thyroid disease all came back negative. It was after trawling through every single one of my blood test results that I discovered the folic acid anomaly. I immediately stopped taking any supplement that contained folic acid (and there were quite a few) and within 24 hours I felt my old self again.
Taking artificial folic acid blocked my cell receptors, preventing my body from using any natural folate I would have obtained from food. So despite high levels of folic acid in my blood, I was actually deficient.
What inhibits the conversion of folic acid into folate is a lack of the enzyme, MTHFR (methylenetrahydrofolate reductase). This is caused by gene mutations, the two most significant being MTHFR C677T and MTHFR A1298C.
The biochemistry behind this is very complex so, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stick to the basics. You inherit one set of genes from your mother and one set from your father, so you can have combinations of the two mutations.
YOU CAN HAVE:
- Just one mutation - either MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C. This would be heterozygous.
- Two of the same mutations - two C677T or two A1298C. This would be homozygous.
- Or you can have one of each - one C677T and one A1298C. This is compound heterozygous.
An estimated 30-40% of the population will have one of these combinations. Many people will go through life without ever being affected as you will still be producing some MTHFR enzyme but just at a reduced capacity.
Single heterozygous mutations are the least likely to cause trouble, but under certain circumstances (e.g excessive stress), you can still suffer symptoms. Homozygous or compound mutations are much more problematic, as capacity for MTHFR production can drop down to 10% of normal.
Testing for these mutations is easy and cheap. All it takes is a cheek swab and costs just $70. TO OBTAIN A TEST AND NUTRITIONAL TESTING CLICK HERE.
HERE ARE COMMON PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THESE GENE MUTATIONS:
So if you have any of these issues or have a family history of them, this could be why.
HOW TO GET ROUND THE PROBLEM – IT’S EASY!
Yes, it really is easy to get round this problem, and you can do it in two ways. The idea is to circumvent the need for the MTHFR enzyme by giving your body the already active natural form of folate.
DO THIS BY:
1. EATING YOUR GREENS. Your mother was right. This will provide you with your most natural, easily assimilated form of folate. So this means lots of kale, spinach, rocket, broccoli and asparagus.
Put spinach, kale and/or rocket in your smoothie if you really can’t stand eating them raw and they won’t really taste of anything.
Or for a tasty lunch, see my recipe for kale salad. Lentils and beans also provide a good healthy dose of folate.
2. TAKE A SUPPLEMENT THAT HAS THE ACTIVATED VERSION OF FOLATE, which is called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). I’m not endorsing any particular company but I find Metagenics a good go-to for methylated supplements.
ONE MORE THING…
Your body will still not be able to use folate properly for methylation without some extra nutrients alongside it. These are:
B12 and again YOU NEED THE ACTIVATED FORM CALLED METHYLCOBALAMIN.
So throw away your folic acid supplements, get the superior methylated versions, EAT YOUR GREENS and get tested if you are worried!