Folic Acid vs. Folate: Which Is Better For Pregnancy?

3 min read

We explain the difference between folic acid and folate—and which version belongs in your prenatal vitamin.
We explain the difference between folic acid and folate—and which version belongs in your prenatal vitamin.

Essential Takeaways

  • Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate, a B-vitamin that helps out with neural tube development during pregnancy, as well as gene expression and neurotransmitter support.
  • But due to a genetic variation that affects nearly 40% of women, folic acid might be more difficult to absorb. Learn why we recommend looking for a different form of folate in your prenatal multivitamin.

Let’s be clear about one thing straight away: Folate is really important for pregnancy. This B vitamin (B9, to be exact) is an essential nutrient that supports neural tube development during pregnancy. And beyond supporting your baby, it’s important for you too. It’s involved with gene expression, helps make the neurotransmitters in your brain involved with mood regulation, and supports red blood cell formation. In other words, folate is a big-time overachiever—which is exactly what you want to support a healthy pregnancy.

Notice how we’re emphasizing folate rather than folic acid? That’s because while folic acid supplements get a lot of buzz as a prenatal must-have, folic acid may not be the most ideal form of folate for your body to use. Let’s get into it below, so you know exactly what you should be looking for in your prenatal vitamin.

Essential Prenatal

Take the guesswork out of your prenatal multivitamin.

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Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.

Chances are you’re consuming some natural folate on a daily basis—food sources include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes such as kidney beans and lentils. The problem is that this isn’t a totally reliable way to ensure that you’re getting all the folate you need, since the nutrient can break down if those foods are chopped or cooked. That’s why supplementation is a good idea.

Lots of supplements opt for folic acid, a synthetic form of folate, because it’s highly stable and better at entering your intestinal cells than natural folate. But for many women, folic acid is actually still more difficult to absorb—which means that even if you’re supplementing, it may be harder to get the full benefits.

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Let’s talk about the MTHFR gene.

Your body can’t just accept folic acid as it is—it has to go through a conversion process into a form called Methyltetrahydrofolate, or MTHF, in order for you to use it. But believe it or not, nearly 40% of women have genetic variants that make it more difficult for folic acid to undergo this conversion process.

Opt for the active form of folate (5MTHF).

With this all in mind, while formulating our Essential Prenatal (as well as our Essential for Women multivitamin, since folate is important for non-pregnant women too), we opted for 5MTHF, an active form of folate that shows superior bioavailability compared to folic acid—in other words, it doesn’t go through that same conversion process, which means that it’s easier for your body to use, even if you have the MTHFR gene variation.

So while taking folic acid is certainly better than skipping folate supplementation altogether, we prefer the active form of folate to bypass the common genetic issues of folic acid for your prenatal multivitamin. Our parting advice: Take any guesswork out of the occasion and look for a prenatal vitamin with 5MTHF, like our Essential Prenatal.