DGP: Am I Getting Too Much Folic Acid? [Episode 12]

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Welcome to this week’s SNPit. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic about your health. Today’s topic is: Am I getting too much folic acid? 

This is the Dirty Genes Podcast, and I’m Dr. Ben Lynch. I hope you enjoy the episode! If you do, be sure to give a thumbs-up, rate it, leave a comment, and subscribe here.

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Click the video below to watch the Dirty Genes Podcast or keep scrolling to read the transcript of Episode 12: Am I Getting Too Much Folic Acid?.



Show Notes

Episode 12 Transcript: Am I Getting Too Much Folic Acid?

Welcome to this week’s SNPit. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic. And today’s topic, are you getting too much folic acid? I’m Dr. Ben Lynch, and this is the Dirty Genes Podcast.

So what do you think? Do you ever wonder if you are taking too much folic acid? Folic acid is a problem, and it’s heavily consumed across the world. But I just want to answer this specific question right now: Are YOU consuming too much folic acid?

Standard Folic Acid Recommendations

What is defined as consuming too much? I mean, what is too much folic acid? You are probably looking for a multivitamin that’s got 400 micrograms a day of your folic acid because that’s what popular medical advice tells you. Public health is saying, “You’ve got to take your 400 mcg of folic acid. You need it for healthy hair, nails, and skin.” Of course, we all want vibrant hair and nails.

Now, what about pregnancy? Pregnancy, you’re told to take 800 micrograms, or 800 mcg of folic acid per day, and breastfeeding recommendations are the same.

Too Much Folic Acid?

So, what do you think the upper limit is, or too much folic acid? According to the Institute of Medicine, back in 1998, kind of aged, but 1000 micrograms a day of folic acid is the upper limit for adults.

So anything over the set upper limit of 1000 micrograms a day for an adult is excessive. It’s too much.

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Sources of Folic Acid

If you’re taking a multivitamin, it might have the recommended amount of 400 micrograms in it. And what about those energy drinks that you get in the afternoon for that pick-me-up? Even if you’re looking for healthier, sugar-free varieties, if you spin the bottle around, there might be some added B vitamins in there.

You’ve looked at the label, and you’re like, “Dang, it’s got folic acid,” or you toss the energy drinks because you switched over to Optimal Electrolyte by Seeking Health, and that’s been helping you out. And you grab an energy bar, and you’re looking for organic, no sugar, healthy carbs. And you flip the package over, what do you see? Two hundred micrograms of folic acid.

And then you go out to dinner, and you order some chow mein and bread, and what have you, you’re getting additional folic acid. This is all on top of the multivitamin that you’re taking every day. So you can see pretty quickly you can be over the limit of 1000 micrograms a day of folic acid.

Let’s look at some statistics right now. And this paper was just published back in 2020, and it was from a meeting at the National Institutes of Health. They sat down and had a great discussion about folic acid supplementation, which I’m very thankful for.

The paper is called: Knowledge gaps in understanding the metabolic and clinical effects of excess folates/folic acid: a summary, and perspectives, from an NIH workshop.

Given that folic acid is mandated in over 80 countries, possibly your own, you’re probably getting folic acid every day inside of you.

So how many people, including yourself, are over the upper limit? 5% of American men and women aged 51 to 70 have levels of folic acid over the upper limit. That’s not bad. And primarily, it’s from supplement intakes.

Children & Folic Acid

If you use the adult upper limit and adjust it accordingly for children, you can look at how many children are over the upper limit. Now the upper limit for folic acid in kids is not 1000 micrograms a day. It’s adjusted based on their age.

Nearly all children aged one to eight who consume 200 micrograms of folic acid a day have total intakes that exceed the upper limit. So a child that consumes 200 micrograms from a dietary supplement is already found to be over the upper limit, which is amazing how easy it is to get excess folic acid.

Why is it so easy for kids to exceed the upper limit?

Well, because the foods that we eat are fortified. Fortification is everywhere, especially in processed grain products. Suppose you are supplementing your kid with a multivitamin as a good parent. In that case, you want to nourish your child. You’re giving them a multivitamin with folic acid in it. It might have 200 micrograms. It might have 100 mcg. It might be 200, 300, 400, whatever.

Then they’re getting the energy bar for after-school sports. They’re getting energy drinks and sports bars. They’re getting goldfish crackers and plastic lunch bags. They’re getting bread on their sandwiches, which is enriched with folic acid. They’re getting maybe a gluten-free tortilla wrap with some ham and lettuce and mayonnaise on it.

You flip over the package of the gluten-free tortilla that’s made from organic grains. And you’re thinking – it must be good – it’s organic, it’s gluten-free, but it’s still got folic acid. Yep. So the amount of folic acid your child is getting is most likely in excess of the upper limit.

Tracking Folic Acid Intake

When you’re buying snacks, whether they’re gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, free of artificial colors, sugars, what have you…

You need to start really looking at the amount of folic acid your kid is getting.

It might be cool and scary to start writing down on your phone  — just create a note —  and start adding up how much folic acid you or your child is getting. And you might be surprised at how much it is.

Folic Acid in Baby Formula

If your child is an infant, it says right here that 100% of the folate in most commercial infant formulas is in the form of folic acid, and they are generally higher folic acid content than human breast milk. Apparently, we thought that putting more folic acid in infant formula is better than what natural selection has offered to the human race?

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Folic Acid in Pregnancy & Prenatals

Women frequently consume quantities of folic acid that exceed the upper limit during pregnancy. Ladies, listen up!

33% of pregnant women in the United States exceed the upper limit for folic acid. Among supplement users, that number increases to 47%.

Why?

Because you’re told to. You’re told to take a prenatal with 800 micrograms of folic acid, and then, of course, you have to eat. So yeah, you’re over the upper limit.

And if you’ve experienced miscarriage(s), or if you’re at increased risk for a higher-risk pregnancy, you might be told to take four milligrams of folic acid. So yeah. Why? Because you’re told to. Notably, all US women of childbearing age capable of getting pregnant are recommended to supplement with 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid from early pregnancy to help prevent birth defects and neural tube defects like spina bifida. Yet most prenatal supplements contain 800 to 1000, because if 800 is good, 1000 is better, right?

Well, not so fast. Without the use of dietary supplements, almost 40% of US women of reproductive age do not meet the requirement for sufficient folate. Well, there lies the conundrum.

So you’re thinking, “Well, what the heck do I do?” 47% of pregnant women are over the upper limit for folic acid, but we also have almost 40% of pregnant women with folate deficiency. Here’s the difference: nearly 40% of US American women of reproductive age do not meet folate intake requirements. That’s NOT folic acid intake. I’m talking about folate intake. There’s a big difference.

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Folate vs. Folic Acid Supplements

Folate (vitamin B9) is a water-soluble B vitamin naturally found in real food that grows on trees and comes out of the ground. In contrast, synthetic folic acid comes from a lab. Remember, 40% of pregnant women are getting insufficient levels of folate. Does that mean you should run to the store and buy a prenatal with folic acid in it to up your folate levels?

The answer is no. Why?

Because folic acid is not really folate.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that cannot be used by your body’s biochemical processes very well at all. It can cause adverse effects. Some people experience the unfortunate serious side effects of folic acid. Don’t let that be you!

If you are in that 40% of women looking for a prenatal to increase your folate levels, you should head over to seekinghealth.com and check out our folic acid-free prenatal vitamins that provide you true folate. We do not use folic acid in any of our vitamin supplements at Seeking Health. We don’t use folic acid in any of our supplements, period.

Folic Acid in Fortified Foods

If you want to go to restaurants, which I do, if you want to go on vacation, which I do, and most likely you do as well, and if you’re going to have food that’s convenient at times, you’re going to be exposing yourself and your kids to folic acid.

The point is, I want you to be mindful of how much folic acid you are getting. Ideally, it’s as low as you comfortably go without going insane (don’t be that person who counts every microgram). If you’re under the upper limit by two micrograms, you’re good.

Ideally, you get as little folic acid as you can.

The easiest way to reduce your folic acid intake is to buy whole foods — foods that literally come from the planet: trees, the ground, and animals. As I discussed in my last Dirty Genes Podcast: Folate vs. Folic Acid, dark leafy greens and grass-fed liver are great folate sources. If you do that, you’re going to be getting sufficient, natural folates. And what happens when you do buy a synthetic energy bar or some processed food? Well, if you have healthy folate stores, then that little bit of folic acid isn’t going to be a big issue. That is, of course, unless you have a condition where you can’t have any folic acid, in which case, your health professional will steer you in the right direction.

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Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    NANCY Ellen Peden

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    As usual excellent. IF we buy PROCESSED foods even organic we may be getting folic acid. It seems inescapable. I check carefully and am more and more eating JUST food and staying away especially from flours as they always have durum wheat that even if from Italy contain it. I just had to have mac and cheese recently and searched the store. Found one, their brand that was from Italy that had no folic acid YET it had wheat; folic acid was not disclosed. Urghhhh….

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Karen Ward

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      That can be frustrating for sure. Have you checked into Jovial pastas? They make an excellent gluten free pasta that is not fortified with folic acid.

      Reply

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