Folate, or vitamin B9, is a water soluble vitamin found naturally in foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements and fortified foods. This vitamin facilitates important conversion reactions in our bodies. It helps with DNA and RNA synthesis (i.e. gene coding), it is necessary for proper cell division and it helps with amino acid metabolism, specifically the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. Folate is found in dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs and dairy. The best sources of natural folate to include in your diet are spinach, beef liver (another reason to eat offal!), asparagus and brussels sprouts (1).
So you have probably been hearing about MTHFR mutations for a while now, and they are important gene mutations when mentioning folate. MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and is an enzyme necessary for folate and homocysteine metabolism. When you have a mutation in this gene, your body is unable to efficiently convert folate to a usable form to help other reactions in your body, specifically the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. When you are unable to metabolize homocysteine, you will have higher homocysteine levels in your blood which may put you at risk for developing heart related complications (2). Additionally, small studies have linked MTHFR mutations with an increased risk of developing:
- Multiple sclerosis (3)
- Type 2 diabetes (4)
- Thyroid disorders (5)
- Vitiligo (6), and
- Rheumatoid arthritis (7)
Low folate levels are also linked to chronic inflammatory diseases and there may be a need for additional folate in individuals trying to manage chronic inflammation (8).
If you are healthy and eat a diet rich in plants, getting adequate folate should not be an issue. If you are trying to manage an inflammatory or autoimmune disease and/or struggle to eat folate-rich foods, supplementation may help. Most high quality multivitamins have folic acid in them. However, if you have a MTHFR mutation, it is better to choose a supplement that has a methylated folate to help your body utilize it more efficiently. Look for supplements with the following ingredients: L-Methylfolate or 5-methyl-THF or L-5-MTHF or 5-MTHF. Need help navigating nutrition or supplements? Click here to schedule a free call with me to see if we are a good fit for each other.