Friday, March 13, 2015

Read This if You Are Taking Folic Acid

What is Folate
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin that is present in a wide variety of foods, particularly in green leafy vegetables. The term folate is derived from the Latin word folium meaning leaf. Folate, a water-soluble vitamin, is essential for maintaining normal cellular growth, development and general function. This vitamin acts as a cofactor in a number of critical metabolic reactions that include synthesis of precursors of DNA and RNA, metabolism of certain amino acids (e.g., methionine), and other methylation reactions. Folate deficiency leads to a variety of health conditions. More commonly recognized conditions are megaloblastic anemia and neural tube defects.

Folate and Folic Acid are Two Different Things
The folates found in food consist of a mixture of reduced folate polyglutamates. (These are forms the body can utilize easily.) It is found in green vegetables, yeast, egg yolk, liver, and kidney. The reduced forms of the vitamin, particularly the unsubstituted dihydro and tetrahydro forms, are unstable chemically. There is a decrease in folate during harvesting, storage, processing, and preparation. Half or even three-quarters of initial folate activity may be lost during these processes. Thus, natural folates rapidly lose activity in foods over periods of days or weeks and this is one reasons garden fresh food is healthier than food that has been stored. This is in contrast to the stability of the synthetic form of this vitamin, folic acid. Since folic acid is the more stable of the two forms, manufacturers of food have used it in supplements and fortified foods. In this form the pteridine (2-amino-4-hydroxypteridine) ring is not reduced, rendering it very resistant to chemical oxidation. However, before folic acid can be used by the body, this synthetic form of the vitamin must first be converted to the naturally bioactive form, which occurs via reduction reactions catalysed by dihydrofolate reductase(DHFR). The first step changing folic acid to dihydrofolate is slow and competes with activity further down the chain. Not all of the folic acid is converted. You can end up with what is called unmetabolized folic acid(UMFA). The next step converting dihydrofolate to tetrahydrofolate also utilizes DHFR but the process is faster and this is not usually a bottle-neck area. Additionally, some people have genetic variations that decrease the activity of DHFR. This creates a further issue for these folks.

The key message here is that the body receives the natural plant derived and the synthetic form differently and this may present a problem for 1 out of 3 people that appear to have trouble processing the synthetic form. Additionally, as we get older, we have more trouble processing folic acid. The fact that the synthetic form is in many conventional foods, and supplements may be an issue for these people. Therefore you will find supplement companies who have taken folic acid out of their products. 

This issue becomes further compounded when you realize that UMFA may be associated with adverse effects.There has not been much research on UMFA, however it has been shown that UMFA is associated with a decrease in natural killer cell (A type of white blood cell.) cytotoxicity. There has been some conjecture that the increased incidence in some cancers such as colorectal cancer has been from the use of folic acid in foods and supplements. Epidemiological research has shown folate in food to be helpful in preventing cancer in the past. This leads me to the following question. Could this relationship to cancer be due to the increased synthetic folic acid or UMFAs associated with folic acid? Could it be that we are taking too much folate/folic acid of any kind? We need further research to see if this is due to people taking too much folic acid and or folate or if it is a folic acid/UMFA issue. People have noticed the increase in cancer since food fortification with folic acid, but not much attention is being paid to the UMFA issue.

You can read more about folate and the folate cycle here.
If you want to know more about the methylation cycle that the folate cycle dumps into, click here.

This is a product I use for methylation.