Most people use the terms folate and folic acid interchangeably, and doctors do this regularly. There is a simple, concise and important difference though: folate is that naturally occurring form that is found in food and easily absorbable. Folic acid is made in a lab, difficult for the body to utilize and has been linked to cancer. This is why you need folate during pregnancy, NOT folic acid. Hell, this is why you need folate all the time.

Folate is crucial during pregnancy and I recommend taking it prior to even becoming pregnant. If you even suspect you may become pregnant, get yourself a good prental with folate, not folic acid. This is my favorite prenatal. It’s food based, easily absorbable and organic.


Or if you prefer a once a day prenatal, Garden of Life makes this as well, another favorite:

Folate is so important during pregnancy because it protects against neural tube defects like spina bifida.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which has proven to be particularly problematic. Folate is a naturally occurring water soluble B vitamin. Folic acid, however, is a synthesized form of folate that the body is unable to properly absorb or utilize.

Folic Acid and Cancer

In fact, folic acid supplementation has been linked to cancer via numerous studies.

…in the Journal of the American Medical Association — suggesting that all the extra folic acid might increase your odds of developing cancer. “The more we learn about folic acid, the more it’s clear that giving it to everyone has very real risks,” says folic acid researcher David Smith, PhD, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford in England.

Another study out of Chile linked folic acid supplementation with an increased risk of colon cancer.

And yet another study out of Norway linked folic acid supplementation with a 21% increase in lung caner.

Folic acid and B12 supplementation was associated with a 21% increased risk for cancer, a 38% increased risk for dying from the disease, and an 18% increase in deaths from all causes.

While folate is a necessary part of a balanced diet, folic acid has actually been linked to increased rates of cancer (another source for ya).

Folic Acid and MTHFR Gene Mutation

You may have heard of the MTHFR gene mutation; it’s gaining more popularity and more and more people are getting tested for variants. This gene provides instructions for making methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase which is crucial to processing amino acids and converting folate into its usable form (source).

It’s been estimated that 40% of the population has an MTHFR variant which makes people completely inept at absorbing folic acid! Dr. Will Cole has a great article on MTHFR you can check out here. Basically, if you have an MTHFR variant, which many people do, you are more likely to not only have issues absordbing and utilizing folic acid, but also have difficulty with proper blood clotting, effective detoxification, problems with pregnancy, more prone to neural tube defects, heart disease, etc (source).

why you need folate during pregnancy, NOT folic acid.

Folate In Food

Another great way to obtain folate is through food. The best sources of folate are:

  • dark leafy greens
  • organic liver
  • broccoli
  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • beets
  • legumes
  • beans, particularly garbanzo

Be sure to eat a well balanced diet during pregnancy. For more posts on that topic, check out these articles I’ve written:

Why you need folate during pregnancy, NOT folic acid


1 Comment

  1. Great article, I think a lot of people don’t look at the difference so it great to give an explanation.

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