Folate or folic acid (aka vitamin B9) became a concern when it was discovered that inadequate intake during pregnancy may result in neural tube defects in the developing fetus. Now most prenatal vitamins will contain higher amounts and any good obstetrician will recommend that all women who are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or who are sexually active consume either a supplement or closely monitor their food intake. Also of concern is those who have MTHFR deficiencies, which requires the active methylfolate supplement or foods high in methylfolate in order to help prevent neural tube defects in infants and have adequate metabolism of homocysteine. This is one B vitamin where it may not be easy to obtain through food if you have the gene deficiency. The RDA is set at 400 mcg per day, but the requirement increases with MTHFR deficiency and the required form changes as well depending on the number of copies of the gene missing.

This is one vitamin that should not be trifled with. Either get yourself tested for MTHFR gene deficiency or consume foods or supplements rich in methylfolate.

Functions

  • Used as a coenzyme
  • Amino acid metabolism
  • DNA and RNA synthesis
  • Homocysteine regulation
  • Proper nervous system development (in pregnancy)
  • Red blood cell production

Primary deficiency symptoms and diseases

  • MTHFR deficiency increases the need for folate, especially in the methylfolate form
  • Anemia
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease (due to higher homocysteine)
  • Increased risk of neural tube defects in infants (during pregnancy)

Food sources

This is a vitamin where plant sources actually beat out animal sources in terms of addressing gene deficiency. Plant foods contain methylfolate whereas many animal foods contain negligible amounts. For those who convert folic acid into methylfolate well, any food source will likely suffice.

  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Peppers
  • Oranges
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Organ meats (non methylated folate)

Supplementation

Supplementing with methylfolate would be almost essential for those with an MTHFR deficiency if adequate amounts cannot be met from food alone. Folic acid itself will not work for these people. Pregnant women (with the advice of a doctor) would also benefit from supplementation.

  • Folic Acid
  • Methylfolate

Who needs it most?

  • Women of child bearing age engaged in sexual activity
  • Pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant
  • Those with an MTHFR deficiency

Other tips

  • If you can afford it, get your genes tested for an MTHFR deficiency
  • These deficiencies may explain why some people experience dramatic reductions in heart disease risk on plant based diets, but others see no difference (due to increased methylfolate consumption from plant foods in the diet)
  • The research is becoming more clear that having an adequate methylfolate level in the blood is essential for possibly keeping heart disease at bay by reducing blood levels of homocysteine