If you are in your childbearing years, chances are a doctor or other health care provider has recommended that you take prenatal vitamins. One of the key components in prenatal vitamins is folic acid, which is one of the B vitamins.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that our bodies use to make new cells– skin, hair, and nails. Additionally, folic acid helps form the neural tube, which the fetus develops during early pregnancy. Folic acid (or folate) taken prior to pregnancy and in the first eight weeks of pregnancy can help prevent congenital anomalies of the baby’s brain and spine, namely anencephaly and spina bifida.
*Please note that this blog is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment; Sweet Child O’ Mine is sharing general information about B vitamins and pregnancy. As always, please consult with your medical provider with any questions you may have regarding this information and/or your medical condition.
Per the CDC, it is recommended that people in their childbearing years take 400 mcg of folic acid every day and most prenatal vitamins include 800 mcg of folic acid or folate. (Find possible drug interactions here.)
Folate vs. Folic Acid
So, here’s the controversy: What is best, Folic Acid or the natural form of the vitamin Folate?
First and foremost, folate and folic acid are different.
Folate is found in foods including but not limited to dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, oranges, lemons, bananas, melons and strawberries. On the other hand, folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is most often in fortified foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and some breakfast cereals and supplements.
For the chemist, folate is a general term that describes several different types of vitamin B9, including dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate (5, 10-methylene-THF), and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-methyl-THF or 5-MTHF). Studies and references here
Again, it’s recommended that people who may conceive or wish to conceive eat diets that include folate and take a folate supplement.
The Science of Methylated Forms of B Vitamins
We’re going to dig a little deeper here, hang with me.
Methylation is a biochemical process that helps convert the problematic amino acid metabolite homocysteine into the amino acids methionine and cysteine. This is a necessary process for all of the systems in the body, as it helps the body repair DNA on an ongoing basis. Methylation occurs billions of times every second! However, proper methylation can be inhibited by nutrient deficiencies including folate, B2, B6 and B12.
Boil it down: Without whole food methylated B vitamins like folate (not folic acid), your body can’t properly use the B vitamins to repair itself and stay healthy.
MTHFR gene (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) affects the metabolism of B vitamins, and approximately 20 to 40 percent of the American population may have a mutation at the MTHFR gene. There is a genetic test to find out if you have a problem with your methylation cycle. This test looks at specific enzymes that are affected by your genetic makeup, including the enzyme MTHFR. Unfortunately, this test is usually not covered by insurance unless there are special circumstances. Thus, we often suggest that all patients use the methylated forms of supplements in order to ensure the best results.
Choose a Prenatal Vitamin that has Folate and Methylated B Vitamins
There are several really good natural prenatal vitamins out there. At Sweet Child O’ Mine, we sell the MegaFoods Baby & Me 2 Prenatal Vitamin, 60 count for $35. Like most natural prenatal vitamins, it does not contain DHA or Omega-3s, so we recommend adding an additional supplement of DHA or Omega3.
Some other recommended brands of prenatal vitamins with methylated folate are listed below. Make sure you look at how many day supply each one contains when comparing prices.
SmartyPants Gummy Prenatal Vitamins
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Food Prenatal
Click for more information on the best methylated prenatal vitamins out there
Sweet Child O’ Mine is Here to Support You
Your team of midwives is here to support you in caring for yourself and your baby. We care about your health and wellness in a holistic way. During prenatal and postpartum visits we will talk about nutrition and supplements, and, of course, if you have additional questions, we are here for you!
If you are currently building your birth team, we would be honored to be a part of your team; reach out and let us know how we can support you!
Finally, if this article got you interested in reading more about supplements during pregnancy, check out our article about vitamin D here and our article about building immunity here.