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.