How To Avoid Folate Deficiency
“Eat your greens.” I bet you’ve heard that before. But have you ever known why exactly? Well a big reason to eat your greens is to avoid folate deficiency, which is a lack of folic acid. (And because they taste good, I reckon!)
So what is folate deficiency and why do you want to avoid it? Let’s start by looking at folate and how it works in the body.
The background of folate:
Folate - otherwise known as B9 - is a water-soluble B group vitamin.
Fun fact: the name ‘folate’ comes from the word ‘foliage’, referring to the high content of folate in leafy green vegetables.
Unsurprisingly then, folate is high in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard and some lentils and beans.
Traditionally folate is known as ‘the pregnancy vitamin’ for preventing birth defects. However, research has revealed that folate has profound benefits for everyone - not just babies!
Here are just a few reasons to avoid folate deficiency: folate has an essential role in cellular energy production, detoxification, neurological health, homocysteine reduction, cancer prevention, growth, development and general well being…
In fact folate (along with its close vitamin comrades vitamin B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc) is vital for a long, healthy life.
Why Folate Deficiency Can Be A Problem For Some People
To put it simply, some people can’t access the benefits of folate as well as others.
Advances in genetic testing have shown that almost 50% of people aren’t able to convert folic acid (the most common form of synthetic folate supplement) into its active form.
This is due to an MTHFR enzyme defect (more on that later). ‘Active’ forms of the acid, such as 5-MTHF, are therefore required to reap the therapeutic benefits of folate.
What’s the problem with taking folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, traditionally prescribed in pregnancy and for general wellbeing. However, for people with the MTHFR genetic mutation, this can pose a problem due to impaired conversion.
Let’s dip into the science for a moment.
Here’s the pathway - simplified:
→ Folic acid is acted upon by the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) to produce dihydrofolate (DHF) which is then converted to tetrahydrofolate (THF)
→ THF can be converted into ‘active’ forms by the methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme (MTHFR): methylenetetrahydrofolate (MethyleneTHF) or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF)
→ 5-MTHF is critical for converting homocysteine back into methionine.
However, for people with the MTHFR genetic mutation, the MTHFR enzyme is ‘faulty’, folic acid is unable to be properly converted and they are at risk of folate deficiency.
That’s why supplemental forms such as 5-MTHF are superior as they’re already partially converted, ready for the body to use.
The Main Roles Of Folate (5-MTHF) In The Body
Avoiding folate deficiency is a pretty good idea. Check out this list of the main roles of folate in the body:
Methylation (a biochemical process that helps your body’s systems to function properly)
Central nervous system function
Creation of neurotransmitters
Detoxifying hormones and environmental toxins.
Producing SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine; a chemical that regulates key functions in living cells)
To prevent neural tube defects and spina bifida in growing babies
Tissue health (especially digestive and female reproductive)
Folate supplements may be useful for:
✔ Growing healthy babies
Folate is well-known as ‘the pregnancy’ vitamin, and has been scientifically validated for preventing neural tube defects, plus other birth defects like cleft palate and spina bifida.
Healthy folate levels are associated with reduced risk of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia and higher birth weight. It’s best taken before and during conception for maximum benefit.
✔ Preventing cancer
Especially colorectal and leukaemia - with mixed results for breast cancer. This is likely due to lowered homocysteine levels and DNA protection.
✔ Mood disorders
Such as depression, bipolar and schizophrenia.
✔ Cardiovascular health
Thanks to homocysteine-lowering effects.
✔ Reducing risk of stroke
✔ Cervical dysplasia
✔ Skin conditions such as psoriasis
✔ Restless leg syndrome
✔ May assist Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s disease
✔ May have secondary benefits for liver disease (due to improved synthesis of SAMe)
How To Take 5-MTHF To Avoid Folate Deficiency
Folate (5-MTHF) has been shown to be effective in doses as low as 100 - 200 mcg, and up to 7 - 15 mg.
It’s recommended to start low and increase gradually, working with a healthcare professional to monitor progress and symptoms.
Folic acid - but not folate as 5-MTHF - is associated with an increased risk of cancer at high doses over long periods of time (upwards of 250% of the recommended daily dose). This may be due to genetic defects which impair its conversion to active forms of folate and fuel cancer cell growth.
Other (rare) side effects of high-dose folate supplementation may be due to undiagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency.
Folate (5-MTHF) in Athletic Greens
Folate supplementation has been proven effective for preventing birth defects, with evidence increasing for cardiovascular protection, cancer prevention and mood support.
However, many companies use folic acid as a synthetic folate supplement to try and help people avoid folate deficiency. And remember I said that 50% of people aren’t able to convert this into its active form?
At Athletic Greens we’re reaching 100% of people, which is why we’ve included 5-MTHF in our whole food supplement.
While synthetic folate such as folic acid is potentially problematic due to MTHFR enzyme defects, 5-MTHF sidesteps this problem by offering an ‘active’ form and ensuring you won’t have any troubles with folate deficiency.
In our greens mix, folate can work well with the adaptogens for mood, with grapeseed extract for improving skin quality, and with magnesium for helping to treat and prevent “restless leg syndrome”.
And let’s be honest, although you know you should “eat your greens”, it’s not always easy to have a perfectly balanced diet. We understand that you might not be getting enough leafy greens in your diet - one of the main sources of folate.
Take your Athletic Greens each day, and know that we’ve got your folate needs well covered!