Folate vs. Folic Acid: What’s the Difference?

Q. I was listening to your podcast about vitamins, and which ones not to take too much of. You mentioned folic acic as one to watch out for.  I checked out my multi- and it had 400mcg of folate.  My B complex that I take at the same time also has 400mcg of folate.  I know you had said to not exceed 400mcg/ day of folic acid in your supplements.  Is folate the same as folic acid?

A. The words ‘folate’ and ‘folic acid’ are often used interchangeably but there are important differences between them. Folate is the naturally-occurring form of the vitamin. Spinach, lentils, and garbanzo beans are all good sources of dietary folate. Folic aid is the synthetic form of the vitamin that is used in most supplements and in fortified foods.   (If your supplements lists “folate,” it suggests that food sources were used instead of synthetic folic acid.)

Folic acid and folate work the same in the body, with one exception: Ironically, the synthetic form (folic acid) is better absorbed by the body than the natural form. You only need 60 mcg of folic acid to get the same benefits you’d get from 100 mcg of naturally-occurring folate.

As I mentioned in the podcast, I think it’s a good idea to limit your intake of folic acid from supplements to 400mcg a day.  Seeing as your supplement contains folate, I think you’re probably OK.  And because you’re getting plenty of B12 , you’re probably not at risk of B12 deficiency. (As I explained in the podcast, one problem with overdoing the folic acid is that it can mask a B12 deficiency.)

That said, you might consider ditching the B complex. While I don’t think it’s dangerous, it does sound sort of superfluous.


60 thoughts on “Folate vs. Folic Acid: What’s the Difference?

  1. I am taking 800 mcg of folic acid per day. Is that much hurting me. It is taken in Nature’s Way Alive Women’s 50 Extra Potency? How much Folic Acid does a man need?

  2. Certainly intriguing to study the impact of overconsumption of folic acid in the US today. With the minimum amounts being increased for enriched grains and folic acid being added to more and more foods, not too mention the increasing numbers of Americans taking dietary supplements (many taking both a multivitamin AND a vitamin B-complex), it is incredibly easy for someone to consume too much.

    At least one study has linked overconsumption of folic acid with cancer promotion (though lower amounts are linked with cancer prevention). This combined with the ability to mask B12 deficiencies and the links with anemia make me question the massive for fortification… though at the same time I know so many need the fortified grains in their diet as a means to prevent neural tube defects. Certainly an area public health professionals and dietitian alike must keep an eye on.

    Great post, Monica! Thanks 🙂

  3. What if one has the MTHFR mutation? In this case, you need more folic acid to feel like a human being. This only applies to non MTHFR people.

    1. If you have the MTHFR mutation then folic acid does not cross the brain blood barrier. You are not absorbing it even though the tests say your levels are fine. Here are some good links:
      http://www.mthfrsupport.com/helpful-links.html
      http://mthfr.net/
      The following video is very educational.
      http://vimeo.com/33039195
      Be aware the old information does not explain that folic acid does NOT work for the MTHFR mutation. Only Folate which you can buy in smaller doses over the counter and then there are Rxs.

      1. It’s not that folic acid does not cross the BBB, it’s that with the MTHFR mutation you have decreased ability (sometimes up to 70%) to use that form of folate in your cells. So other processes that depend on that step working correctly have to try to compensate. The lack of this enzyme is associated with several health effects.

        1. So for someone who is homozygous MTHFR (and trying to get pregnant), is it better to take vitamins with folate rather than folic acid?

          1. If your MTHFR the folate you should be using is methyl folate period. The mutation inhibits the conversion of both folic and folate. Methyl folate occurs naturally in berries and you can purchase it in supplement form, but proceed carefully. Start with small amounts and keep niacin on hand if you feel a bit yuk. Methyl folate can make you detox or overmethylate sometimes. A good detox before starting is a plan. Check you vit d levels also. Dr Ben lynch has a great site with lots of info and he also has a multi vit with methyl folate, which we use

  4. well i take prenatal vitamins now that im prego but prior i was taking the raw code woman vitamins which have folate. i changed to some regular over the counter prenatals because i always read that when prego women need folic acid. but reading this i feel i would prefer to change my vitamin to the raw code prenatals. but my question is if i change my vitamin will folate have the same effect of preventin developemnt problems in my baby as folic acid is reported to do?

    1. Folic Acid goes through several steps to become Methyl Folate. So it will probably have the most effect of any folate source you use. Recommendations are to start with small amounts (400mcg) and build up.

      1. Do NOT take folic acid while pregnant if you have SNPs in the mthfr gene. One is unable to break down this synthetic form of folic acid in to L-methylfolate, the form utilized by cells. From Dr. Lynch’s web site forum: “Do not give folic acid to
        those afflicted with MTHFR C677T mutations because the MTHFR mutation has partially destroyed the MTHFR enzyme which is required to process folic acid completely.

        Natural foods with folate should be consumed by all with MTHFR mutations as food folate helps make other forms of folic acid which are needed for various functions.

        Those with C677T MHTFR mutations do not process folic acid into 5-MTHF.

        If folic acid does not turn into 5-MTHF, folic acid levels build up. Elevated folic acid has potential to stimulate pre-existing cancer cells.

        That said, it is unwise to provide supplemental folic acid to anyone with MTHFR C677T mutations.”

  5. I’m taking New Chapter woman’s one daily… along w that I take Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root to help aid w fatty liver disease and overall liver health. I take an extra vitamin E pill and a chewable vitamin C. I get B12 shots once a month. Im very confused when it comes to the B viramins. Should I still take a B complex vitamin? The multivitamin I says that it offers 100% of the B vitamins. It is all naturaul. The folate is 400mcg. Should I take a folic acid vitamin as well? I also take a weekly Vitamin D pill. I have RA, thyroid disorder and fatty liver. I want to boost my immune system because of the RA. any suggestions?

      1. Is this true only for folic acid or for any folate, and L-methylfolate (as in Metanx)? I’ve been prescribed Metanx because of MTHFR, and this information about cancer scares me. Also, they didn’t tell me to start building up slowly, so I just started taking it every other day, and now every day. Is that bad?

        1. My understanding is that providing methylfolate up to your body’s needs will help. If you don’t have MTHFR and use folic acid to get it great, but if you have MTHFR methylfolate directly is best.

          It’s not clear though if the problems with cancer have anything to do with mutations, or whether cofactors were not present, or one has trouble eliminating excess (through the kidneys), or if there are issues with RBCs, where excess folate is stored.

          Since we can’t know exactly what is happening with our bodies, we have the recommendation to start slowly and work up, it doesn’t mean you are in danger if you start with something more than a small amount. Some people do get side effects, and that’s the thing to look out for.

          They advertise MetaNX for diabetic neuropathy. What are you using it for?

          1. I am using it in preparation for pregnancy. I lost 2 before, that’s how they found my MTHFR C677T mutations. So the extra folate is supposed to help with that. What kind of side effects should I look out for?
            So is it clear from research whether cancer risk was similarly higher for those taking extra folate (or l-methylfolate) as well as those taking extra folic acid?

  6. The synthetic “franchen-chemical” folic acid not only builds up in the blood stream if taking too much, but studies have been done to show it scrambles DNA (resulting in Cancer), so I wouldn’t be ingesting it if I were pregnant or not.
    Folate on the other hand is important for pregnant women as well as the rest of the population. It reduces levels of homocysteine which is assoiciated with heart disease.
    Go as natural as possible as there are many micronutrients and enzymes that come in the natural package which are needed to make any nutrient work better…

    http://thepeopleschemist.com/folic-acid-fallacy-multivitamin-killing/
    http://chriskresser.com/folate-vs-folic-acid
    http://www.wiley.com/college/boyer/0470003790/cutting_edge/homocysteine/homocysteine.htm
    http://www.medicinenet.com/homocysteine/article.htm

    Also, check medical research journals for the results of studies
    Please do thorough research and not just look for what you believe to be true. Try and prove yourself wrong and you’ll get a bigger and better picture.
    Don’t depend on any one source for your information.
    During our academic studies we are fed only the info the governing bodies have set and educators have been taught. We have to go beyond that. The real information is out there.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Cheers

    1. Thank you for some rational comments here. Folic acid is NOT the same as Folate, especially the MTHF form, available in many supplements. Most individuals, especially those of Caucasian descent have a genetic disorder called C677T which as I understand it interferes with the enzymes that convert folic acid to folate. This results in unconverted folic acid that you describe above. Look for a good supplement that has MTHF form of Folate in it as opposed to one that has Folic acid.

  7. I am experiencing rapid hair thinning and loss over the past 6 months. I eat a balanced diet I think –maybe should get more protein in it. I also take vitamins. One is a multi-vit
    +

    For the past 6 months I have been experiencing major thinning and hair loss. I have no idea what’s happening. I’m exploring the possibility my vitamin supplements might have something to do with it? I take a multi-vitamin which contains Vit B12 0.5 mcg,, Folic Acid 100 mcg., Biotin 75 mcg., & B6 1000 mcg. plus the usual assortment.
    Because these percentages are well below the recommended daily allowance, I supplement by taking individual Folic Acid 400 mcg., B12 1000 mcg., and Biotin 15000 mcg (yes that’s triple the usual dose but I was advised by a physician several years ago that the usual dose of 5000 mcg. was nearly worthless). I know that Biotin is specifically used for better hair/nails and I’ve used it for several years so don’t think it is causing this hair problem.
    So, I would welcome comments about the extra ingestion of Folic Acid, B6, B12 as my B-complex vitamins. Please HELP!

    1. Hello Jackie-
      I’m not sure you are still following this thread, but I have recently found that I have the compound hetro MTHFR mutation. For me, one of the first noticeable things that “something was wrong” was that my hair started falling out. In a matter of months, my health took a dive . I’ve been taking methyl folate (and staying away from all folic acid) and am feeling much better. Stomach, brain, senses are returning to “normal” and my hair is growing back.

      I suggest being tested. We are just beginning to understand the role of this gene, but it looks like a significant percentage of the population may be impacted. Good luck.

  8. “Folic acid and folate work the same in the body, with one exception: Ironically, the synthetic form (folic acid) is better absorbed by the body than the natural form.”

    Just a bit to add, the reason why folic acid is absorbed more than the natural form is because folate is breaks down during the processing/storing of food. Also it needs to break down before its absorbed.

  9. Hello,
    I’m trying to conceive at 42 and I am taking New Chapter Perfect Prenatal. Am I getting enough Folate from this one multi vitamin, or should I be taking folic acid?

    Vitamin A † (100% as beta-carotene) 5000 IU 100%
    Vitamin C † 60 mg 100%
    Vitamin D3 † 1000 IU 250%
    Vitamin E † 30 IU 100%
    Vitamin K (K1 and K2 (MK7) Blend) 80 mcg 100%
    Thiamin-Vitamin B1 † 4 mg 267%
    Riboflavin-Vitamin B2 † 5 mg 294%
    Niacin † 20 mg 100%
    Vitamin B6 † 5 mg 250%
    Folate † 600 mcg 150%
    Vitamin B12 † 30 mcg 500%
    Biotin † 300 mcg 100%
    Pantothenic Acid †
    10 mg 100%
    Calcium (from Algae ‡) 75 mg 7.5%
    Iron † 18 mg 100%
    Iodine † 90 mcg 60%
    Magnesium † (70% cultured; 30% from Algae ‡) 15 mg 3%
    Zinc † 7.5 mg 50%
    Selenium † 50 mcg 71%
    Copper † 750 mcg 38%
    Manganese † 2 mg 100%
    Chromium † 100 mcg 83%
    Molybdenum † 20 mcg 27%

    Michelle

    1. The folate in your vitamin does say what kind of folate it is (folic acid, folinic acid, methyl folate). The RDA is 1000mcg for pregnant women , so that is low. If you have the MTHFR mutation you can’t use Folic Acid anyway, so better to be taking Methyl Folate.

      1. Hi,

        I’m trying to get pregnant at 42, my prenatal vitamin has Folate † 600 mcg I am also taking a B complex with Folic Acid 400mcg is this a safe amount to take each day? Is it OK to mix Folate and Folic Acid? My pee is ALWAYS yellow, is this OK?

        Michelle

  10. Hello…I am concerned and a bit confused because I am planning to get pregnant again soon.
    I have been taking Pre-natal Nutrients which has folic acid 800 mg, vitamin c 100 mg, B12 8mcg, B6 2.5 mg..in the morning.. Then I took Folic Acid 800 mg and Vitamin C 500 mg..
    Would it be too much??? Would it be affecting me? Please help me out.. How much do I need to take to limit the vitamin when i process to get pregnant again this summer? I don’t want to do overdo it. Thank you.. God bless

  11. Hi,

    I’m trying to get pregnant at 42, my prenatal vitamin has Folate † 600 mcg I am also taking a B complex with Folic Acid 400mcg is this a safe amount to take each day? Is it OK to mix Folate and Folic Acid? My pee is ALWAYS yellow, is this OK?

    Michelle

  12. I have rheumatoid arthritis and take a disease modifying drug which compromises my immune system. My doctor wants me take 1,000 mg per day of folic acid because he says the drug interferes with the absorption of folic acid. He says 800 is also okay because my daily homocysteine tablet contains 800 mg of folic acid. I recently purchased a vitamin supplement that says “FOLATE” and then underneath says “5-Methyltetrahydrofolic Acid”. I thought I was purchasing natural Folate but now I am not sure. Is 5-Methyltetrahydrofolic acid better than just plain Folic Acid? Or is it just the same thing? I planned on alternating days–one day taking the homocysteine and the next just the Folate. Does that sound okay? The doctor did not prescribe homocystein formula, just the folic acid.

  13. A couple of years ago i began to question WHY, in spite of an “ever better” health care, in spite of grown prosperity, WHY do so many people get chronically ill today and WHY do people get chronically ill at an ever younger age?

    Having 5 health care degrees, i began my search and i must say that i had to reset everything i learned.
    I began to study the works of Dr. Royal Lee, (What’s left of it anyway), Victor Schauberger (dito), Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Matthias Rath, Dr. Weston Price etc. and the answer is as simple as 1+1.

    No single, Not 1! synthetic “vitamin” replaces the natural counterpart. If anyone can prove that something dead can create life or prevent diseases…..be my guest.

    Furthermore: Taking vitamins (even the natural ones) does NOT guarantee that there is vitamin ACTIVITY!

    (A vitamin is: “… a working process consisting of the nutrient, enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, and trace minerals activators.”
    – Royal Lee “What Is a Vitamin?” Applied Trophology, Aug. 1956 )

    Due to the commercialized processed food, the commercialized agriculture, the commercialized pharmaceutic industry, the commercialized whatevvah!, what SHOULD be in our food is not in it anymore, but what should NOT be in it…

    Not even to mention the (ever worse) soil depletion, air-, water- and soilpollution, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, GMO’s, etc. All of these chemicals and lack of sufficient nutrients overstretched the immunesystem of man(kind).

    Now what is toxic? Or toxicity? In chemistry EVERYTHING is toxic (even water or nutrients!!!), in biology not.
    This is why legislation WORLD WIDE is based on chemistry and risk assessment. Control the food system (world wide) and control the population (world wide)
    Long live Codex Alimentarius.

    So without saying… In my opinion ANY chronic disease comes from malnutrition due to lack of vitamin activity.

    “There is only one major disease, and that is malnutrition.” (Jensen, p8)
    Malnutrition of the affluent is the natural result of the foods of commerce.

    This is why my wife and i changed things radically.
    And if you just do THAT, IF you want to change for the better.
    If you WANT to LIVE!

    JUST stop putting all those chemicals in your body and something beyond believe WILL happen!
    I have seen things happening beyond imagination. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself.

  14. Any suggestions for HPV? I hear having a folic acid deficiency is thought to be a factor in weather you get cervical cancer. I have already had precancerous cells removed and I do not want a re occurrence. Thanks.

  15. So….how much folate do I get from a 800mcg folic acid supplement?

    Would it be 800mcg of folate or would it be a higher number since our bodies absorb more from folic acid?

    Would that mean that I’d be getting 1333.33 mcg of folate from a 800mcg folic acid tablet?

    Please clarify – very confused!

    1. The math goes the other way: An 800 mcg folic acid supplement would provide 800mcg of folic acid. But you’d have to consume about 1360 mcg of dietary folate to get the equivalent, due to decreased absorption of dietary folate.

      The RDA for folate (400 mcg/day) refers to dietary folate equivalents (or DFE). If you got 400mcg of folate from unfortified food sources, you’d be all set. You’d only need about 235 mcg of folic acid supplements to meet that (235 x 1.7 = 400).

      If your goal were to get 800mcg of folate, you could consume 800mcg from natural food sources, or 470 mcg folic acid from supplement or fortified foods. Hope that helps a little–it IS very confusing!

  16. Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking the time and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never
    seem to get anything done.

  17. I’m epileptic, so my doctors have had me on folic acid since I was a teenager. I have been taking 800 and was wondering if you think that is too much. I’m not sure if it’s the epilepsy or the medicine that I take for it that requires me to be on it constantly.

  18. I’m a bit confused between B vitamins, Ferrous Sulfate and Folic Acid. About three years ago my doctor checked my Vit D levels and told me that I was very low. She prescribed a high dose for three months and since then I have taken 5000mg a day. About a year ago I went to my doctor for my annual well women checkup. She asked how I was and I told her that I was tired and that I felt I had gotten progressively more tired in the past 10 years. She checked my Thyroid, Iron, B-12 etc. She told me that my iron levels were quite low and told me to take 65mg of Ferrous sulfate and work my way up to 3 x a day. She asked me to come back in two months. I don’t really feel like my energy levels have increased. She checked my folate levels, they were low and she had me take folic acid. It has been almost a year and I’m still tired, was told by hormone doctor that my B-12 was slightly low.
    So I take 65 mg Ferrous sulfate 2x
    Folic Acid
    I also take:
    Vit C 100
    B-100 Complex
    Vit E
    Evening Primrose Oil
    If I take to much B-12 I get heart palpitations but I also have numbness and tingling in my arms, hands and feet and teeth marks on my tongue and memory fog…indicators of low B-12.
    Wondering if I should stop taking B complex and just take Ferrous Sulfate, switch to folate and take a b-12 instead?

  19. I am homozygous for the MTHFR A 1298C mutation (2 copies). I have attempted to take 5-MTHF and gotten migraines. Vessel Care has caused difficult brain fog, increased bloating, acid indigestion and generally feeling awful like I’m going to catch a bad cold. I have bad side effects on most medications and am currently only taking 6,000 mg Vitamin D per day for low levels. (I was taking Krill Oil but stopped due to bleeding and easy bruising) Do you have any suggestions for replacing the Folate? Although I have attempted too – I do not understand MTHFR and how it really affects my life. Any help would be appreciated.

  20. I’m pregnant and in my prenatal’s it has 800 mcg in each pill which I only take once a day. Is 800 mcg still too much to take when you’re pregnant even though it’s in your prenatals?

  21. I take methotrexate and the Dr wants me to take folic acid @ 1,000 mcg. I am taking 2,000 mcg folate since the drug will cause serious side effects without folate or folic acid, I need to take a lot. Your comments on dosage and folate vs. Folic acid will be appreciated.

  22. I recently found out i am homozygous MTHFR. I was so confused, now that you have explained better in lyman’s terms i find myself breathing a sigh of relief. My primary care physician on the other hand is a different story. Needless to say all i’ve been prescribed is B12,B6 and FOLIC ACID!!! Not once,but twice. Is there methyl folate or 5-MTHF over the counter? And please forgive me if im a little mixed up. I’ve been battling fibromyalgia for over 20 years, but just found out that my exhaustion,brain fog,cold hands and feet,tingling in arms and legs ,etc. might actually be from MTHFR?? Still some what confused??

  23. I need help.
    I was put on Methotrexate 7.5mg once a week for high inflammation, and cronic pain, also put on 1M daily of folic acid. Dr. was informed my daily multi vit. has 400mcg of folic acid. My medicare medical plan will not give me the prescription 1M folic acid. My Dr. couldn’t be reached so I asked another of my Doctors and was told to take 3 – 400 mcg. over the counter daily, I also said I am taking 400 mcg. folic acid with my daily vitamin. After 6 days of this I took my first metetrexate. Now I am taking 7.5 mg methotrexate weekly and 1600 mcg folic acid daily for close to 3 weeks till I saw my doctor and she lowered my folic acid to 2 – 400 mcg daily and I take 400 mcg folic acid in my vitamin also, therefore I am taking 1200 mcg daily of folic acid. She again sent in prescription for 1 m folic acid which my medicare drug plan again did not accept. Please advise, am I still taking to much folic acid. Again this Dr. is not available (call office put on hold and they disconnect you.) I need to fight the medicare drug plan so I can get correct dosage which I am not sure what it should be. Another Dr. for Osteoporosis has me on vitamins. I am also on many other medicines also for hosh thyroid, reflux-barretts, asthma, OAB, Glocoma, etc. I have symptoms of Scleroderma w/o blood markers and have severe raynauds w ulcerations for most of 35 years. I had no blood markers for thyroid for 6 years and I told my Dr.s I have it. Family history of scleroderma, 5 with raynaud, other autoimune also. Note: I did get rid of stage 1 dysplasia myself by raising the head of the bed up 19″ higher than the foot of the bed therefore will not need painful abalation treatment. Acid doesn’t come up from your stomach as fast standing than reclining so I tried this and the last 2 EGD showed no stage 1 dysplasia. If this can help others would be great. Patio blocks under legs of the head of bed. Remember take off wheels first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *