Folic Acid or Folate?
Folic acid, folate: What’s the difference—and does it even matter? To some extent, it does.
Folate or folacin—or, even more technically, pteroylpolyglutamate—is the water-soluble form of vitamin B9 as it occurs naturally in foods, like green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes. Folic acid—or pteroylmonoglutamic acid—is folate in synthetic form.
While “synthetic” can be a four-letter word these days, it so happens, says Jayesh Chaudhari, MS, CNS, senior director, research and development, Prinova Solutions (Carol Stream, IL), that “the synthetic folic acid form is more stable and thus more commonly found in supplements and fortified foods.”
But our bodies need to metabolize and activate folic acid once we’ve consumed it. “And we’ve learned,” says CRN’s MacKay, “that there are genetic variants wherein some people do not activate folic acid as well as do others.”
Thus, a commercial product (Quatrefolic; Gnosis SPA, Milan, Italy) delivers folic acid in the already-activated 5-methyltetrahydrofolate form, which allows those with the genetic predisposition to use the folic acid found in supplements and fortified foods.
And while the ingredient is a game changer for consumers who can’t otherwise activate synthetic folic acid, MacKay notes that, like folic acid, it too “is not ‘natural.’ The only natural form comes from eating food. And in the end, we have to remember that it’s regular-old synthetic folic acid that’s part of the public health recommendations.”
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