Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

Understanding the Key Differences Between Folate and Folic Acid

Food rich in folic acid. Healthy products

Fueling your body with the proper vitamins and nutrients is always essential, but it can be difficult to get all of those nutrients from food alone. That’s why so many people take multivitamins on a daily basis. A good multivitamin might contain vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and folic acid.  But what exactly are folate and folic acid? What is the difference, and which one should you take? Read on to find out more.

Benefits of Folate and Folic Acid

Vitamin D strengthens the immune system in order to help fight infections and can be consumed in foods like orange juice and salmon. Calcium assists in maintaining healthy bones, teeth, and heart functions. You might have heard that foods in the dairy group like milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources of calcium. But what are the best sources of folate and folic acid? Is folate the same as folic acid?

Much like squares and rectangles, all folic acid is folate, but not all folate is folic acid. Folate is a general catch-all term to refer to vitamin B9. It can be found in green vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that can be found in supplements and certain grains.

Folate and folic acid are helpful for maintaining a normal red blood cell count. If you’re anemic or have a folate deficiency, your doctor may also recommend that you take folic acid supplements.

Folate vs. Folic Acid

Because folate is a form of vitamin B9 that occurs naturally in foods like green vegetables, if you find that you need to add a larger amount of vitamin B9 to your diet, you will probably want to supplement it with synthetic folic acid. It’s important to check with your doctor before taking a folic acid supplement, though.

It might seem like you can never have too much of a good thing, but that isn’t necessarily true for vitamins and nutrients. According to Healthline, it takes a while for folic acid to metabolize in your bloodstream. Too much folic acid can lead to side effects like nausea, diarrhea, skin reactions, irritability, and other behavior changes. Because folic acid is often added to foods that you already eat on a daily basis, like cereal, bread, and pasta, it’s important to make sure you’re not taking too much. Your body is sensitive and finding the right nutrients to fit your specific needs can be quite the balancing act.

Fortunately, a multivitamin that contains folic acid should be perfectly safe for your body. Additionally, folic acid supplements may be less likely to cause side effects and complications when taken in combination with other types of vitamin B.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself experiencing negative side effects after taking folic acid supplements, you may opt to stick to natural sources of folate and vitamin B9.

Other Forms of Folate

In order for your body to properly metabolize a folic acid supplement, it must first convert that folic acid into a form of vitamin B9 called 5-MTHF. Other forms of folate include DHF, THF, and 10-MTHF.

You might be concerned about taking too much folic acid or slow metabolism rates. If so, it’s possible to find 5-MTHF supplements that remove that extra conversion step. If you’re pregnant and looking to take a prenatal supplement that increases your vitamin B9 intake, you definitely won’t want to worry about more potential side effects. While 5-MTHF supplements can still have side effects, this active form of folate can be easier for some pregnant people to process.

Folic Acid for Pregnancy

One of the main benefits of folic acid is its ability to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in unborn babies. Neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly affect the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid helps tissues grow and aids in forming a baby’s red blood cells and neural tube. Generally, pregnant people should take 400 mcg of folic acid per day in order to prevent such birth defects. Because a baby’s neural tube is formed during the early stages of pregnancy, a woman should begin taking folic acid supplements as soon as she plans to become pregnant.

While birth defects like spina bifida can be caused by a vitamin B9 deficiency, they can also be caused by a range of genetic and environmental factors. Taking a folic acid supplement isn’t guaranteed to prevent birth defects in unborn babies, but it certainly can’t hurt.


If you want to support the health of your baby and prevent birth defects either before or during pregnancy, folate and folic acid can be a good place to start. You might want to increase your folate intake by eating more leafy greens or taking a supplement in the form of folic acid or 5-MTHF. It’s important to spend some time researching and talking to your doctor in order to find the right mix of prenatal vitamins for your body and your baby.

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Hanna Heller

Hanna is the entertainment and lifestyle editor for CDN. Fan of great movies, legendary music, outdoor activities and cool stuff in general, her opinions, as expressed in her articles, are her own and not necessarily shared by anyone .. anywhere .. ever. Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_CDN

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