When it comes to having a baby folic acid is probably at the top of the list of supplements that couples identify as being an essential dietary factor in fertility and pregnancy.
Most people are surprised then to find out that folic acid is a chemical which is not naturally used in the body. In fact supplementary folic acid is simply a way to artificially introduce a source of a natural chemical called folate into the system.
Folate (and more specifically a form of folate called L-methylfolate) is the essential compound in pregnancy which prevents defects in the development of the brain and spine in a growing fetus. A type of vitamin B, L-methylfolate is required for cellular replication and division and is linked with reduced risks of heart disease, stroke and cancer to name but a few critical functions.
To create the useable L-methylfolate from folic acid supplements, the body has to metabolise synthetic folic acid and other unmethylated folates derived naturally from food or supplements.
This occurs through a process called methylation, a complex chain of chemical reactions which can easily fall out of balance. Without sufficient methylation, folic acid cannot be effectively converted into its usable form.
Many people also suffer from a common gene mutation which further complicates the problem. The MTFHR mutation actively prevents the final stages of methylation due to an enzymatic imbalance, which effectively renders folic acid supplements completely redundant as a source of L-methylfolate.
So why is folic acid the go to recommendation from the healthcare community?
Firstly, and most importantly for reproductive health, because it’s better than no folate supplementation at all. Low quality supplements are usually better than nothing.
Secondly, and more importantly to the pharmaceutical/supplement manufacturers, folic acid is extremely cheap to synthesise. Low production cost allows maximum markup, creating a high profit product which can sold in bulk to the masses.
Luckily there are alternatives if you know what you are looking for.
Firstly, dietary sources. Dark leafy greens, soy beans, spinach, broccoli and asparagus are all excellent sources of folate in its natural form which will bypass the need for methylation. However as folate cannot be stored in the body, it is important to eat folate rich dietary elements every day and especially for women trying to conceive, who are pregnant or whilst breastfeeding.
Secondly seeking out a a high quality supplement is an excellent addition to a healthy dietary intake. Look out for supplements which include the usable form of folate, L-methylfolate, instead of folic acid.
We love the Terranova Prenatal supplement which includes your RDA of L-methylfolate along with a host of vitamins and minerals in natural, bioavailable forms to help to boost your fertile potential and support you through pregnancy.
Most importantly of all, ensure you are taking in some form of folate supplement in addition to your dietary elements. If better quality supplements are not available to you, folic acid is definitely better than nothing.