By: Amanda Miller MS, RN Clinical Integrative Nutrition Nurse Consultant
Anyone trying to promote women’s health, a healthy pregnancy, and a safe birth is probably confused by competing research regarding folic acid.
Unfortunately, research is never black and white and confusion can set in — even for trained researchers.The fortification of our food supply with folic acid in 1998 reduced spina bifida birth defects by 19 percent. Great! But some estimate it may have caused an additional 15,000 cancer deaths per year. Yikes! Now What?
The answer is in the chemistry: Man-made, synthetic molecules are generally not recognized by the body and tend to do unpredictable things because they don’t work with our normal biochemical cellular processes. Where as, organic-made, naturally occurring molecules are recognized and accepted by the body and enhance the health of our cellular processes.
Herein lies the problem with Folic acid: Folic acid is the man-made, synthetic molecule that is used in processed foods to fortify our food supply. It is the compound used in most studies and in most vitamins because it costs less and is more stable than the organic, naturally occurring form of this nutrient (folate).
Folate is the molecule naturally found in foliage — dark green leafy vegetables. Folate enters our normal biochemical processes and gets properly metabolized. On the other hand, Folic acid may not be properly converted or metabolized by the body, and can build up, leading to inflammation in the body. The build-up of Folic acid can oxidize, promoting free radical production and genetic instability, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases.
Since we are all biochemically individual and genetically unique, about 45% of the population
has a genetic variation in a gene called MTHFR. This mutation, when turned on, can cause folic
acid accumulation in the body which puts them at risk for the consequential inflammation.
Luckily, by just avoiding folic acid in fortified and processed foods, you minimize this risk (think
white flour, white rice, cereals and processed foods). Just eat real, whole fresh food!
*Work with our genetic specialist Dr Jean Marc Sobczyk to learn more about our genetic testing at The Akasha Center to learn more or to see if you are a carrier for this variant.
Now, why is this nutrient the Women’s Health Secret?: It lies in the magic of Methylation
Methylation is a key biochemical process that is essential for the proper function of almost all of our body’s systems. It occurs billions of times every second; it helps to repair DNA, controls which genes are turned on or turned off, controls homocysteine (an inflammatory marker that can damage blood vessels), helps to recycle molecules needed for detoxification, and it helps to regulate mood.
Because of its role in methylation, folate plays a critical part in these processes. Therefore a deficiency or a lack of optimized methylation can put you at higher risk for conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, cervical dysplasia and cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, depression, pediatric cognitive dysfunction (mood and other behavioral disorders), dementia, and cardiovascular disease and stroke – Hence folate’s role in the development process of a fetus in utero!
The following symptoms may be associated with inadequate folate. Talk to your integrative practitioner if you suspect a deficiency!
- Feeling faint
- Heart palpitations
- Mental sluggishness/brain fog
- Pale skin
- Reduced appetite
- Poor digestion
- Faulty immune function
To avoid all of these problems, the key is to optimize methylation. That means avoiding the things that cause your methylation to break down, testing to find out how well your methylation is working, and including the things that support proper methylation – So how do we do that?
Minimize Folic acid build up from these sources:
- Synthetic vitamins with “folic acid” listed as the ingredient
- Breakfast cereals
- Fortified White Rice (check the label)
- Flour Tortillas
- Instant Oatmeal
Promote healthy cell regeneration and the methylation cycle with these sources:
- Grass fed Beef Liver
- Sunflower seeds
- Turnip greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Egg yok
Tips to Optimize Your Methylation Process
1. Eat more dark, leafy greens. You want to eat l cup a day of vegetables like bok choy, escarole, Swiss chard, kale, watercress, spinach, dandelion, mustard, collard or beet greens. These are among the most abundant sources of the nutrients needed for optimal methylation. You can’t get too much folate from food.
2. Get more Bs in your diet. Good food sources include sunflower seeds and wheat germ (vitamin B6), fish and eggs (vitamin B6 and B12), cheese (B12), beans and walnuts (vitamin B6 and folate), leafy dark green vegetables, asparagus, almonds, whole grains (folate) and liver (all three).
3. Avoid processed or refined foods and canned foods. These are depleted in vitamins. 4. Avoid caffeine. Excess amounts can deplete your B vitamin levels.
5. Limit alcohol to three drinks a week. More than this can deplete your B vitamin levels. 6. Don’t smoke. The carbon monoxide inactivates vitamin B6.
7. Avoid medications that interfere with methylation (Drugs like acid blockers, methotrexate (for cancer and arthritis and other autoimmune diseases), oral contraceptives, HCTZ (for high blood pressure) and Dilantin (for seizures) can all affect levels of B vitamins.
8. Keep the bacteria in your gut healthy. Take probiotic supplements and use other measures to make sure the bacteria in your gut are healthy so you can properly absorb the vitamins you do get.
9. Improve stomach acid. Use herbal digestives (bitters) or taking supplemental HCl.
10. Take supplements that prevent damage from homocysteine. Antioxidants protect you from homocysteine damage. Also make sure you support methylation with supplements like methylation support, magnesium, and zinc.
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