Folic Acid vs Folate—Understanding the Difference 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.

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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 DNA methylation (a process related to gene expression) and supports red blood cell formation. All in all, it's an important nutrient to look for in a prenatal multivitamin.

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. The good news? There's an alternative to look out for when shopping for a prenatal. Let's get into the specifics below.

Folic acid is a 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 may be a good idea.*

Here's the thing: All five best-selling prenatal multivitamins use the synthetic form of Folate, Folic Acid. Our Essential Prenatal uses 5-MTHF, a bioavailable form of Folate.†* Why? Because for many women, folic acid is more difficult to efficiently utilize. Let's dig in a little deeper.

†Based on the top 5 US prenatal multivitamin brands by 2019 & trailing 12 month retail sales (through April '20)

Let’s talk about the MTHFR gene.

Your body can’t just use 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, up to one-third of women have genetic variants that can get in the way of this specific process—and those who do may not be able to utilize folic acid as efficiently as possible.

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

While formulating our Essential Prenatal (as well as the rest of our multivitamin lineup, since folate is important for non-pregnant individuals too), we opted for 5MTHF, an active form of folate—it doesn't go through the same conversion process as folic acid, effectively bypassing that genetic variation we talked about.

So while taking folic acid is certainly better than skipping folate supplementation altogether, we prefer the active form of folate so that even those with the MTHFR gene are supported throughout their pregnancies. Our parting advice: Take any guesswork out of the occasion and look for a prenatal multivitamin with 5MTHF, like our Essential Prenatal.*