Folic acid, folate and why the difference between them is important when getting pregnant

“I need to start drinking folic acid” is one of the first thoughts of every woman who has learned that she is expecting a baby and has started planning her new regimen in order to ensure a relaxed pregnancy.

In fact, why has this supplement gained such popularity in recent years and exactly how does it support the normal development of the fetus? Are there any risks associated with folic acid?

Let us first answer the last question. For this purpose, it is necessary to explain the difference between folic acid and folate.

Folic acid and folate – “the same” but different

In some mass sources, you will encounter the erroneous explanation that folic acid is vitamin B9. It is more accurate to say that folic acid is a synthetic form of this important vitamin for the body. Its natural form is called folate.

It is not irrelevant whether a pregnant woman takes folate or folic acid. In some people, the body is not able to metabolize folic acid, and then it will not only not fulfill its functions, but it is possible that its excess will cause some health problems.

The explanation for this lies behind the complex name methylenetetrahydrofolar reductase, or more simply MTHFR. This is an enzyme needed by the liver to convert folic acid into an absorbable form for the body, and the conversion itself is relatively complex and takes place in several stages. In the presence of a mutation in the human MTHFR gene, this conversion process is slow and somewhat inefficient. If a woman has the MTHFR mutation in question, folic acid absorption is impaired during pregnancy, and this significantly increases a number of health risks – including the risk of birth defects.

The important functions of folic acid

The absorbable form of folic acid is one of the water-soluble vitamins with extremely important functions for human health. What are they?

• Participates in DNA and RNA synthesis;
• Participates in the synthesis of white and red blood cells;
• It is needed both for the construction of the placenta and for the construction of the bone marrow of the embryo.

During pregnancy, folic acid significantly reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTD) in the embryo. These are severe anomalies, the most common type of which is spina bifida. This spinal defect affects about 200,000 pregnancies and 70,000 newborns each year, according to data from the World Health Organization. The damage is severe, but its early detection is possible as early as 16 weeks of gestation thanks to so-called biochemical screening. In most cases, when such a defect is found in the fetus, doctors recommend termination of pregnancy, since the disability is severe and there is a high risk of disability of the child. With a very high degree of damage, a secondary infection of the spinal cord may also occur and lead to a fatal outcome in the first days after birth.

More Folic Acid Benefits for a Pregnant Woman and Her Baby

Folic acid is an important factor in the prevention of all types of neural tube defects and the only prophylaxis of spina bifida. In recent years, this important role of folic acid during pregnancy (also when planning to become pregnant) has been talked about quite a lot. However, there are also some other important folic acid benefits that are less well known to most women and that science is still exploring to uncover details.

Taking this supplement has also been associated with a lower risk of autism and schizophrenia, as well as a lower risk of the mother developing postpartum depression. For scientists, it is not yet entirely clear what is the relationship between the presence of enough folic acid in the mother’s body and the prevention of autism spectrum disorders. But there are reliable indications that such a relationship exists.

There was also a correlation between folic acid (respectively vitamin B9) and a decrease in the risk of depressive disorders. Various studies have found that among patients with depression, folic acid deficiency is more common. The reason for this may be rooted in the fact that vitamin B9 is important for the full absorption by the body of vitamin B12, which in turn is a factor in the proper functioning of the nervous system and doctors often prescribe it to help treat depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

Does your body absorb folic acid?

Given all the extraordinary benefits of folic acid, the question of whether your body is able to metabolize it is important, especially if you are expecting a baby, but also for any woman of fertile age. It is also important to recall the fact that a significant part of all pregnancies occur without being planned. In these cases, it may be that starting folic acid intake only after the pregnancy is established is too late.

We have an optimal effect of saturation of the body with sufficient levels when folic acid intake has begun 2-3 months before the onset of pregnancy. From this we can conclude that always in the presence of fertility it is good for a woman to regularly ensure a biodegradable form of folic acid in sufficient quantity.

If you drink folic acid in supplement form, how can you be sure that you are not a carrier of the MTHFR gene mutation?

The only way to establish this is through special testing in a genetic laboratory. Usually, such a study is recommended for women who have experienced more than one miscarriage. However, if there are no specific doubts, then most people with the mutation in question and, accordingly, with disorders of enzyme activity may not be aware of this at all, as well as of the resulting risks to the fetus during pregnancy.

And while some evidence suggests that about 40% of the population has disturbances in the MTHFR gene, folic acid continues to be recommended as a mandatory supplement for every future mother. This supplement already has its extreme opponents, such as Dr. Ben Lynch, a researcher in the field of nutrigenomics. It urges absolutely all pregnant women not to take folic acid and instead only target the methylated form of folic acid or natural folate.

What is the required daily dose of folic acid

In determining it, it matters what the family history of the couple is. In couples with a low risk, 400 micrograms per day are enough for a woman, and you should start taking at least 2-3 months before conception and continue for as long as the lactation period lasts.

If someone in the pair has close relatives with neural tube defects, then the case falls into the moderate risk group. We are also talking about moderate risk in the presence of some other factors, for example, if the future mother suffers from diabetes, Crohn’s disease, gluten intolerance. These women should start with 1 milligram of the vitamin daily by 12 weeks of gestation, after which the dose is reduced.

The amount of 4 milligrams per day is prescribed to women of the high-risk group. It includes partners who have already had the case of a child with neural tube defects.

New generation folic acid – Folacid Meta

When choosing folic acid to take, head to a new generation product like Folacid Meta. The active ingredient in these tablets is called calcium L-methylfolate and is a bioactive form of folic acid that is more easily absorbed by the body. It is that form of folic acid that is usually produced in the body after several metabolic processes catalyzed by various enzymes.

If you are a woman of fertile age, this information is important to you, even if you do not plan to have a baby in the very near future. It’s never too early to start taking care of yourself and for a possible pregnancy to proceed normally, and you feel at ease! For all pregnant women, the intake of methylated folic acid is of great importance. Consult your follow-up doctor about the right amount and be sure to enjoy this very special period of your life to the fullest!

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