DGP: Folate vs. Folic Acid [Episode 11]

E011 - Folate vs Folic Acid

Welcome to this week’s Dirty Genes Podcast  — I’m Dr. Ben Lynch

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Show Notes

Episode 11 Transcript: Folate vs. Folic Acid

Welcome to this week’s SNPit. It’s where we get down and dirty on a specific topic. Today’s topic is an important one: folate versus folic acid. I’m Dr. Ben Lynch, and this is the Dirty Genes Podcast.

What is Folate?

Let’s back up a little bit and define what folate is, and then we’ll define folic acid. Then, we’ll compare the two and see how your body uses folate and how your body uses folic acid. Then, well, if you’ve got the unnatural form of folic acid in your body, well, can your body even use natural folate?

So first, folate. Folate, or vitamin B9, has been around for, I don’t know how long. As long as plants have been on this amazing planet, for as long as animals have been roaming this earth, folate has been around. But I’m talking about naturally-grown food and animals, pasture, ranches, farms like we used to have.

These types of food provide you with a natural and active form of folate. And there are different forms of vitamin B9. Folate comes from the term “foliar” which means foliage. Foliage, folate. Put it together. If you are eating foliage, you’re getting dietary folate. Since animals eat foliage, they are storing folate in their liver and their body. So, you are consuming folate, especially if you’re eating organ meats.

Folate comes from the term “foliar” which means foliage. If you are eating green leafy vegetables, you’re getting folate.

Green leafy vegetables and organ meats, especially liver, are fantastic food sources of folate.

At times, I will have some liver, and when I do, I feel this amazing flood of energy. It’s got to be from grass-fed, younger animals to give you a good, healthy source of folate without getting all the chemicals and so on that are found in livers. If you are getting liver, make sure it’s organic, free-range, and from younger animals, preferably even wild.

So, folate is natural, comes from nature, comes from the root “foliar,” and comes from foliage. When you consume it, your body immediately recognizes and utilizes it because it’s in an active form. Immediately. There are genes that produce enzymes in your body that when you consume natural forms of folate, it will immediately glob onto that folate you consumed, and it will put it to work. No questions. Now, what happened?

[Ep11-v2]-DGP-Quote-Card-Synthetic-FolicAcid

Hello Industrial Revolution, Goodbye Folate

When the Industrial Revolution came about, we decided that, “You know what? It sucks having to make bread every single day and then throw it all out if it doesn’t last on the shelves for very long.” So bread manufacturers decided to come up with a way to have bread stay longer on the shelf, and what did they do? Well, you have to strip bran and nutrients out of the flour. Basically, you destroy the life of the flour, completely bleach it and destroy it. When you’re doing that, you’re removing the primary nutrients, vitamins, B vitamins, and folates from the flour.

So the Industrial Revolution resulted in bread that can sit on the shelves for weeks, months, and lo and behold, people loved it. Businesses flourished, and people bought it. It’s like, “Oh, this is yummy. This is great,” and then what happened? Oh my gosh. Well, the health of the planet started going down. Imagine that.

We decided that processing our flours, our grains for longevity is going to be great and convenient to the detriment of our own health.

We started seeing increases in infertility. We started seeing increases in pregnancy complications. We started seeing birth defects and neural tube defects like spina bifida, and they traced it back to, “Oh, people aren’t getting sufficient folate because we removed the natural folates from our food.”

Lab Built Folate: Folic Acid

So that’s awesome that they figured that out the source of the problem. Then they said, “You know what? We really shouldn’t process the flour like this. We should just make refrigeration, or buy it more frequently, or make things in smaller batches.”

So, they looked at how folate was built naturally with the compounds of carbons, hydrogens, and so on, and they mimicked it in a lab. They built folate, or so they thought, but it’s a little bit different. And that little bit different folate that they designed in a lab has a significant difference in how it functions in the human body, in your body. So what happened?

What they synthesized was folic acid. And it didn’t take long before fortification of grains, breads, breakfast cereals with folic acid was common practice.

Your DHFR Gene on Folic Acid

So, what happened was these scientists gave folic acid to lab rats, and they tested the rats to see if their folate levels went up. They were giving the synthetic form of folate, folic acid, which has no biological benefit at all in the human body until it’s changed by genes. There’s a particular gene called DHFR, which you’re probably not familiar with. Regardless if there’s a genetic variant or not in the DHFR gene, you shouldn’t be taking folic acid.

Your DHFR gene codes for production of the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase, which converts dihydrofolate into tetrahydrofolate, an active form of folate.

According to the research that they did back in the ’90s, they found out that rats could process synthetic folic acid with their DHFR gene and immediately convert it into natural folate. The rats were able to make natural folate from synthetic folic acid. Okay. So through this particular gene called DHFR, rats had no problem. But remember, we’re not rats. We are not rats. In humans, when we consume synthetic folic acid, our DHFR gene looks at that synthetic folic acid and says, “I don’t recognize you very well. I will try to do whatever I need to do with this thing,” and it can only make a little bit of real folate because remember, folic acid is a synthetic form. It doesn’t do anything until it’s transformed into folate, and the DHFR gene is the first step for your body to do that.

So synthetic folic acid gets to the DHFR gene. It gets transformed into dihydrofolate, but only a tiny bit. Your DHFR enzyme… So genes produce enzymes. Remember Episode 8 of the Dirty Genes Podcast? Genes produce enzymes, and so the DHFR enzyme can produce 200 micrograms (mcg) of dihydrofolate from synthetic folic acid. Any more than 200 mcg of folic acid that you consume, that enzyme is saying, “Stop. I don’t want any more. I can’t do anything with it.” And that synthetic folic acid buildup in your body can cause a significant amount of problems.

Not only that, but some of us have an even slower dihydrofolate reductase enzyme that can’t process folic acid very well at all, and it’s actually quite common. I believe about 40 percent of people have a dihydrofolate reductase genetic variation that does not allow them to process folic acid very well at all.

On top of that, if you have the MTHFR gene mutation which affects the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme, it can lead to folate deficiency and elevated homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease.

[Ep11-v3]-DGP-Quote-Card-DHFR

The Problem with Folic Acid

So what does this all mean? Why do I even care? Here’s the reason. If you are taking something and it is absolutely of no use to your body, it gets in the way. If I’ve got my hand in front of the camera or I’ve got something covering the microphone, and I’m trying to speak, you’re not going to hear it. It’s in the way. If I remove my hand, you can hear me well. If I put my hand back, it sounds muffled, and it’s not very good. Your biochemistry gets muffled from folic acid.

There are various genes in your human body that help you absorb folate, help you carry folate, help you bind folate to the receptors on the cell membrane, and then help you utilize that folate to do various things like reduce your homocysteine levels or grow healthy hair, skin, nails, and repair your gut lining, produce neurotransmitters, and so on. But harmful synthetic folic acid reduces your body’s ability to do all of that.

All this focus on enriching and fortifying our foods with synthetic folic acid is doing us major harm and causing major side effects.

The difference between synthetic folic acid and natural folates is that synthetic folic acid is completely manmade and has zero physiological utilization or use in our body at all. While natural folates found in leafy green vegetables or animal products, especially organ meats, are readily available for enzymes in your body to absorb, recognize, and use. In contrast, folic acid gets in the way and blocks your natural folate’s ability to actually perform those functions.

Synthetic folic acid can block your natural folate’s ability to perform.

Choose Natural Folates

I choose natural folates from whole foods and high-quality supplements. I refuse synthetic folic acid. I would like you to do the same. So, if you wonder how widespread fortified foods and folic acid actually are, I invite you to try reading labels. I invite you to try tossing that synthetic folic acid supplement in the trash, and I invite you to try real nutrients with natural folate< in them.

You can go to seekinghealth.com, and you’ll see that all of our B vitamin supplements, multivitamins, and prenatal vitamins have true folates in there. If supplementation is easier than eating enough food folates, you can choose from l-methylfolate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate, 5-mthf), you can choose from methyl-free folinic acid, and you can even choose a multivitamin with no folate at all because some people do get enough folate intake from the leafy greens in their diet.

I have a huge email list (join here!), and when I surveyed, I asked the question, “What is the number one thing that I’ve taught you over the years? What is the top thing that you’ve implemented in your life that’s given you the best results?” Big question, right? I’ve been doing this for over a decade now. The most common answer out of 4,000 responses was:

“The removal of folic acid has led to the most significant improvements in my life.” 

That is different from the addition of folate to my life. It’s the removal of folic acid intake!

In Sum: Folic Acid Sucks!

So until next time, I invite you to start looking at labels. Choose real folate in your dietary supplements. Make healthy decisions. Avoid folic acid supplementation. Please start spreading the word that natural folates are better, and synthetic folic acid has got to go. Folic acid sucks!

The Dirty Genes Podcast doesn’t suck, or at least I hope it doesn’t, haha, and I’d love to hear your feedback. If you could leave a review on iTunes, Google, or wherever you found us, that would be most appreciated. Click the “Like” and “Subscribe” buttons on YouTube, and hey, I love doing these things. I’ve got more that are coming, and I learn from you. So when you share your comments with us, and you comment on our videos on YouTube as well with questions, I do enjoy those. So please keep those coming, and until next time here on the Dirty Genes Podcast, I hope this helps you and finds you well!

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Comments (3)

  • Avatar

    Lynda Kelly

    |

    Can you please also explain about B12 deficiency and how to supplement? I have homozygous A1298C, I don’t have Pernicious Anaemia but my homocysteine level was high over a year ago now. I was told to supplement with B Supplements (excluding folate and B12), then start a B12 Methylcobalamin injection, because I had taken oral supplements B12 and folate in the past and still not felt very well.

    My folate levels had tested low but I was told I needed to get my B12 levels up before introducing folate supplements. I did this for almost a year before I was told I could take a little methylfolate to start with and do it slowly. After a year I still don’t feel great and have read information that says you need to supplement with folic acid in order for the B12 to be effective. My folate levels are good now and my B12 is really high (over 3,000). Also my B6 is high, but I feel awful with numbness and tingling, tiredness and heavy over the eyes.

    I’m seeing another doctor and dietician now and have stopped supplementation. I eat a high fat, low carb diet, with green leafy veges etc and have no weight issues or autoimmune diseases.

    I need to be set straight about how and when to take supplementation or what needs to be taken, if anything.

    My homocysteine level was perfect at the last test.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Karen Ward

      |

      It seems like you may want to consult a skilled Functional Medicine or Naturopathic practitioner who has knowledge on nutrient testing. Serum B12 will most often be elevated when taking supplements. There are other markers that your practitioner may examine. For example, if they are using the ION40 panel from Genova, they may look for methylmalonic acid or odd-chain fatty acids to determine your functional B12 status and FIGLU or Formiminoglutamic Acid to examine your folate status. The Strategene panel may also assist with knowing your genes that support both your B12 and Folate pathways as well.

      Reply

  • Avatar

    NANCY Ellen Peden

    |

    What an excellent basic clear subject. Jason Fung who I like does not do anywhere as well even though I heard him speak recently about how clean food was when we were kids and how we did not overeat. As folic acid was added so was that yumminess you mention addicting us to not just ease but taste.

    I was tickled you mentioned that we are not rats. I try to stay away from non-human studies and you making this comparison I feel a very important lesson on research.

    I have sent this post to an MTHFR diabetic friend (which I now see via NIH co-occur. I now suggest every diabetic be tested at least for gene 1, MTHFR) and will share this newsletter more broadly.

    The more I learn the more my doctors learn. In their corporate world not much time to be up on holistic health. And they appreciate it.

    Many thanks, Dr. Ben.

    Reply

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