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Although used interchangeably, folic acid and folate are two different forms or derivatives of vitamin B9. Since Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient required by our body to perform several important functions such as cell growth and DNA formation, it is imperative that we do not lack it in our bodies.
Low levels of vitamin B9 can increase the risk of several health conditions, including:
1. Elevated homocysteine, which means an an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
2. Low folate levels in pregnant women can lead to birth abnormalities, such as neural tube defects.
3. Low levels of vitamin B9 can also put you at an increased cancer risk.
For the mentioned reasons, taking supplements of vitamin B9 is common.
“Folate is a naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. Active form of vitamin B9 is a type of folate known as levomefolic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5 – MTHF),” Dr Usha Priyambada, Senior consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Asian Hospital, told Health Shots.
Before it enters your bloodstream, it need to be converted into the biologically active form of vitamin B9 — 5-MTHF.
Leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce are the best dietary source of folate. Other sources include avocados, brussel sprouts and asparagus.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as pteroylglutamic acid. It is used in supplements and added to processed food products such as flour and breakfast cereals.
“Not all folic acid gets converted into an active form of vitamin B9, that is 5 MTHF. Hence, it needs to be converted in your liver or other tissues. Even small doses of 200-400 microgram once daily may not be completely metabolized until the next dose is taken. Taking folic acid along with vitamin B6 makes conversion efficient,” Dr Priyambada added.
As a result, sometimes non-metabolized folic acid is detected in people’s bloodstreams. This which needs to be avoided as it has been associated with several health problems.
For pregnant women, supplements are an easy way to ensure adequate vitamin B9 intake. Folic acid is a common supplement form of vitamin B9, which can be taken easily.