Don't Make This Mistake When Picking Out A Folate Supplement
Fluency in vitamin B9 talk is not intuitive. There's folate, folic acid, and methylfolate (oh my!). It's hard to decipher what the difference is—let alone figure out what name to look for on the back of a supplement bottle.
It's likely that at some point during your life you have (or will) take a folate-containing supplement. So literacy in what to look for on a label is crucial.
And we're here to break it down for you.
Folate, folic acid & methylfolate
Folate, which is synonymous with vitamin B9, is the naturally occurring form of the vitamin that's found in foods like leafy greens (spinach & kale), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli.
"Folate" is also used as an umbrella term for all forms of the nutrient—including those used in supplements.
Types of folate you'll find in supplements:
- Folic acid: This is the most common form of folate found in fortified foods (like breads and cereals) and most supplements.
- Methylfolate: Also referred to as 5-MTHF, methylfolate is the fully bioactive form of the vitamin, which can be more easily metabolized in the body. It's also in some supplements but is less common than folic acid.
Not all folate is bioactive
So, why is this important? Methylation refers to the transfer of carbon methyl groups from one biochemical compound to another to produce amino acids, hormones, red blood cells, and neurotransmitters.
On the other hand, folic acid isn't very far along in the activation journey. When it's ingested from fortified foods or supplements, it's still multiple steps away from being fully activated. It must first be converted to dihydrofolate, then to tetrahydrofolate, and then—finally—to 5-MTHF. 5-MTHF is the biologically active form of the vitamin. In this form, it can carry out its role as a methyl donor to turn homocysteine into methionine (more on that later).
What happens when folic acid can't be activated?
If that's the case, it means there isn't a lot of available bioactive folate to methylate homocysteine to methionine, and homocysteine can build up in the blood.
Therefore, enough activated folate in your system is essential for overall health.*
So, which one do you choose when looking for a supplement?
In case the answer isn't yet clear, it's best to look for supplements with methylfolate or 5-MTHF as the folate ingredient. It's added peace of mind that the folate you're supplementing with is the form of folate your body is actually able to use to make sure methylation processes run smoothly.*
But it's not yet standard practice for supplements to provide this form of folate. So to fill that gap (and ensure sure methylation processes run smoothly) mindbodygreen formulated methylation support+.*
Overall, methylation support+ may help promote synthesis of DNA, red blood cells, neurotransmitters, as well as energy production and heart and brain health.*
Whether you have a known MTHFR gene variation or not, methylfolate is the smart choice for targeted folate supplementation.*
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and mindbodygreen's supplements editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.