Hello bloggers! Today’s blog post is another juicy topic and one that may be foreign to many of you. At Foraged we receive enquiries daily asking the folate content of our blends, whether they contain folic acid, or whether it’s safe for someone with MTHFR gene mutation. Don’t worry, we hear you! This is a confusing topic and there is a lot of misinformation given about folic acid. Today we are going to go into detail as to why we have food-based folate in our blends, why we choose to avoid folic acid, and why our blend may be exactly what your body needs.
Firstly, let's get the sciencey bit out of the road! The MTHFR gene plays a crucial role in the conversion of folate into a usable form within the body. This gene provides the body with instructions for producing an enzyme critical in the process of converting folate (vitamin B9) into its active form, known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). This active form is vital for DNA synthesis, repair and methylation - it is ESSENTIAL for overall health.
So knowing this information, let’s take a look at folic acid. Folic acid is a commonly found form of folate in supplements and fortified foods. It is an inactive form of folate, unusable by the body until converted. However, more than 50% of the population biologically cannot complete this conversion, as this MTHFR genetic mutation compromises the body’s ability to convert effectively. While supplementing might seem like a straightforward solution to boost folate levels, folic acid use may just be doing more harm than good!
So what happens if I take folic acid and I have an undiagnosed MTHFR gene mutation?
A few things could happen, let’s take a look:
- You may experience incomplete conversion, where the conversion of synthetic folic acid into the active form may be incomplete or inefficient. This can lead to suboptimal levels of active folate, potentially impacting the body in many different ways.
- You may experience methylation issues. Methylation is a fundamental biochemical process that relies heavily on adequate levels of active folate. Impaired methylation due to insufficient conversion can contribute to a range of health issues, from mood disorders to cardiovascular concerns.
- You may experience a masked vitamin B12 deficiency. As synthetic folic acid can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, this may lead to potential neurological complications. The proper balance between folate and B12 is crucial for neurological health and an imbalance may have far-reaching consequences.
- You may find it hard to conceive. A recent study looked at couples who had been experiencing infertility for over 4 years, where one or both partners had a MTHFR gene mutation. They had previously been trying folic acid supplements, but the study introduced natural forms of folate instead. After only 4 months, 39% of the female participants conceived naturally! Others also conceived eventually with some additional support, and only 6% didn’t conceive! So after avoiding folic acid and using natural folate instead, 94% of the subjects conceived.
What if I don’t have a MTHFR gene mutation, is taking folic acid much of an issue?
Well here’s the thing, folic acid is the new kid on the block. When you really take a look at the average lifespan, this supplement has only been out for around 1-2 generations. We still don’t have long-term evidence that suggests synthetic folic acid is 100% safe for humans, mums, or developing babies in utero. We also don’t have very much evidence on the opposite, either.
However, a systematic review was also conducted in 2019, where they found high intake of folic acid supplements was higher in women with infants with ankyloglossia (tongue-tie). There was also a study done in 2020 that reported an association between higher intake of preconception folic acid and ankyloglossia (tongue-tie), which has continued to spark some interesting and necessary discussions around whether synthetic folic acid is safe and what the long-term effects may be. More research is certainly warranted in this area, but as we know pregnancy and breastfeeding studies are so rarely done due to ethical reasons.
If I know that I have MTHFR gene mutation, what should I be doing instead?
For individuals with a MTHFR gene mutation, navigating the world of folate can feel like a minefield. If you are someone who is choosing to supplement, opting for ones that contain an activated or methylate folate is ideal, such as L-methylfolate or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), for example. These forms bypass the need for conversion and are able to be used effectively by the body without side effects.
Why is food-based folate in Foraged?
In the quest for optimal health, obtaining folate from a diverse, wholefoods-based diet stands out as a key strategy. Nature provides a bountiful source of folate in various foods, especially in its natural form, such as L-methylfolate. Beef liver, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, legumes and citrus fruits offer considerable amounts of folate that the body can readily absorb and utilise. In Foraged, we include beef liver, fermented red lentils, broccoli and spinach, all providing safe and nourishing sources of food-based folate.
The Mother’s Blend contains 80.21mcg of folate per 7.5g serving, which can be a perfect contribution to your folate intake throughout pregnancy. Most people are recommended 500mcg per day during pregnancy, so using Foraged in addition to your diet can easily meet your folate recommendations if you are choosing to be intentional with your nutrition. For example, 1 cup of cooked spinach is 263mcg of folate, so 2 cups of cooked spinach and a serving of Foraged is surpassing 500mcg.
The beauty of using natural sources of such nutrients is there are no adverse effects, interactions, or complications - it’s food! Unlike synthetic folate, food-based folate comes in various forms that do not require conversion for the body to use. This means it is of no harm to any human or developing bub, even those with MTHFR gene mutations. The natural diversity of folate in foods ensures a more nuanced and balanced supply of this vital nutrient, supporting the intricate dance of biochemical processes within the body.
As you can see, understanding the impact of synthetic folic acid on those with and without MTHFR gene mutations reveals the importance of personalised approaches to supplementation, preferably with the guidance of your practitioner. Choosing the right path with folate can feel overwhelming, but I’m hoping after reading this blog post you feel more informed and at ease using your diet to obtain folate and activated/methylated folate as your preferred options of supplementation.