Folic acid and folate are two forms of Vitamin B9. A main role of all B vitamins is to help the body produce energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose (1). B Vitamins also help the nervous system function properly, and assist the body in utilizing fats and proteins (1). B9 is specifically critical for the production of red blood cells and for DNA synthesis (2). It is crucial to get a regular supply of B9 because it is water soluble, so your body does not store it.
Because of these commonalities, folate and folic acid are often not differentiated correctly. There are variations between the two considering where their nutrients come from and how our bodies process the vitamins.
What is Folate?
Folate is an umbrella term that encompasses the many forms of Vitamin B-9, including folic acid, dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), and others (3). The word “folate” comes from the latin word “folium,” meaning leaf, and one of the best ways to incorporate folate into your diet is by eating leafy vegetables (4). Citrus fruits and beans are excellent sources as well (3).
What is Folic acid?
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, often found in supplements and fortified foods like bread, pasta, rice and cereal (3). The reason folic acid is used in food fortification is because it is heat stable (3). Unlike folic acid, other forms of natural food folate can be broken down easily by heat and light and would not be able withstand being baked or cooked at high temperatures (3).
How do they differ?
One of the ways folate and folic acid differ is how they are digested and used in your body. Most dietary folate is converted into the biologically active form of B-9 in your digestive system before it enters your bloodstream. This active form of B-9 is called 5-MTHF (4).
With folic acid though, not all of it can be converted to 5-MTHF in your digestive system (4). Your liver and other organs help when converting folic acid to the active form, resulting in a slower process.
B9 During Pregnancy
Both folate and folic acid are extremely important during pregnancy regarding fertility and the health of the baby (5). B-9 has been shown to help prevent neural tube defects, which affect the spine and brain of a newborn (5). These defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy— often before a woman knows she is pregnant— which is why it is important to ensure your intake of Vitamin B-9 is always sufficient if you are at a fertile age.
How Much Do I Need?
According to the CDC, the recommended value for all women of reproductive age is 400 mcg of folic acid each day, along with folate from food within a varied diet (6). While folate and folic acid differ, consuming both is advised, especially for women who want to get pregnant eventually. Even if you are not looking to conceive, getting your recommended amount of B-9 vitamins helps the body reproduce cells from skin, hair, and nails (6). GEM contains both folate and folic acid to help you meet your daily needs.