Let’s be clear about one thing straight away: Folate is really important for pregnancy. In addition to supporting neural tube development for baby, it’s essential for you, too—it’s involved with DNA methylation (a process related to gene expression) and supports red blood cell formation. All in all, folate is an important nutrient that needs support from a prenatal multivitamin.*
Notice how we’re emphasizing folate rather than folic acid? That’s because folic acid is a form of folate—it ultimately gets converted in the body to become the active form of folate, 5-MTHF. But 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 people with a genetic variation that makes it difficult to process. And that’s why we opted for the active form of folate as 5-MTHF while formulating Essential Prenatal.*
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate.
Folic acid is not naturally found in nature or in our body. It was introduced to our diet through the mandatory folic acid fortification of grain products in 1998. On the flip side, chances are you’re consuming natural folate on a daily basis—food sources include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes such as kidney beans and lentils.
Why is this important? It comes down to the way folic acid is converted in the body. Again, when we consume folic acid, it has to be converted to the active form of folate that our bodies can use—which is called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5-MTHF. And that’s where some people can run into a problem. Up to one-third of adults have a genetic variation that makes it difficult to efficiently convert folic acid specifically—which means that in addition to the genetic issues surrounding folic acid, those with either excess intake of folic acid or the genetic variation may be prone to excess of unconverted folic acid in their bodies. (Emerging research cited by the National Institutes of Health points to the potential risks of this excess folic acid.)*
This is one of the chief reasons why we opted for 5-MTHF, the active form of folate we include in our multivitamins—helping to bypass that tricky folic acid-to-folate conversion. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the steward of medical and behavioral research for the nation, calls 5-MTHF the “active form of folic acid” and reports that supplementation with 5-MTHF might be more beneficial than with folic acid for people with this genetic variation.*