Folate vs. folic acid: what’s the difference?

Chinese version 跳至中文版

If I asked you which of folate and folic acid were found naturally in food, would you know the answer?

If not, you’re in good company.

Medical professionals, nutrition experts, and health practitioners frequently mix up the two, simply because the terms are often used interchangeably. But – they are not the same.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, while folate is the natural kind found in foods. To boost your folate intake in diet, incorporate more leafy greens (kale, spinach and cabbage) or legumes like kidney beans or chickpeas.

Prior to 1943, human exposure to folic acid was non-existent. Around this time, research revealed that folic acid was essential during pregnancy in aiding the development of a healthy nervous system and spine. This led to the USA calling for mandatory food fortification. This meant that folic acid was added to foods like bread, pasta, rice and cereal to help raise levels of folate among those with low levels.

Low levels of folate had been reported to be common, owing to absence of green vegetables or legumes in the average diet.

The unfortunate part of this story is that for around 45% of women, this wouldn’t have done anything to support their pregnancy – they won’t have been able to absorb folic acid.

Folic acid is often considered to be the supplemental form of folate, but it doesn’t always work for everyone.

This is because of a common gene variation called MTHFR, which affects around 30% of the whole population. Studies have shown that it may affect up to 45% of women. This gene variation prevents people from absorbing B vitamins in their active forms – and folic acid is not active. Only folate works properly for those who have these genotypes.

Folate (the natural form) has some very important functions and because it is necessary during rapid cell division and growth in pregnancy, the need for dietary folate doubles for mums-to-be.

How much folate is ideal?

The scientific name for folate is called 5 MTHFR (methyl-tetra-hydra-folate) and some supplement brands may call folate this. Before and during pregnancy, our naturopaths recommend 600-1000 mcg of folate as 5-MTHFR. Take care not to take too much however: as this could possibly be harmful.

Visit IMI Supplements Online for the range of folate supplements available at IMI.


Chinese version 中文版

Folate 與 Folic acid 有什麼分別?

Folate 和 Folic acid 中文都叫葉酸你知道它們的分別嗎? 哪一種是天然存在於食物當中呢? 一般人經常把兩者混淆, 因為醫學專家和營養專家經常將這兩個術語交替使用。然而,它們是不一樣的。

Folate是在食物中找到的天然葉酸。而Folic acid是在1943年由人類研發出來的化學合成葉酸。 在美國,由於一般飲食中缺乏綠色蔬菜或扁豆,因此葉酸缺乏是很常見的。亦因為有大量證據表明在受孕前和懷孕早期補充Folic acid對新生嬰兒神經管缺陷(NTD)的發展具有保護作用,因此強化食物營養是必需要的。

雖然folic acid通常被認為是補充folate的方式,但這兩種葉酸之間有一個重要的區別,Folic acid 不是經常有效的,事實上Folic acid 對一些人來說甚至可能是有害的。這是因為一個稱為 “MTHFR 677 C>T變異基因”的遺傳變異影響了大約45%的婦女。只有Folate對這些有變異基因的人才真正有效。天然葉酸而不是化學合成葉酸,是保護你未出生的孩子免受葉酸缺乏症影響的可靠方法。葉酸(純天然形式)有非常重要的功能,它是在懷孕期間的快速細胞分裂和生長過程中必要的原素,所以準媽媽在飲食中需要加倍的葉酸。


  • 神經管缺陷,是一種嚴重的出生缺陷。胚胎在早期發育過程中出現脊髓和大腦的嚴重缺陷,最常見的是脊柱裂。
  • 自閉症。研究顯示,在懷孕第一個月每日平均攝取葉酸≥600mcg(與<600mcg)與降低自閉症障礙風險有關(概率比:0.62;相等於38%的下降率)。Am J Clin Nutr. July 2012 vol.96 no.1, 80-89.

研究顯示,對於有 MTHFR 677 C>T 變異基因型的母親和兒童,葉酸與降低自閉症風險之間的關聯最為明顯。如果這些母親補充的是Folate,而不是Folic acid,她們的效果會更好,因為Folate更容易被基因型的身體吸收和利用。

每次吸收多少葉酸 (Folate) 才是理想?

Folate 嚴格來說被稱為甲基四氫葉酸 5 MTHFR,某些營養補充品牌含有這個成份。

在懷孕前和懷孕期間,IMI建議吸收600-1000mcg 5-MTHFR的葉酸。注意不要服用過量,過多的Folate 或 Folic acid可能會對身體有害。同時要監測血液中的葉酸和維生素B12水平,使其處於正常範圍的上限,但不超過正常範圍。刊登於《FASEB雜誌》2016年4月第30卷第1期補編151.6中的一項波士頓研究報告指出, 攝取過量的B12或葉酸可能會增加自閉症的風險。因此,保持這些維生素的血液水平在正常範圍內是很重要的。


About Dr. Benita Perch

Dr Benita Perch is a U.S trained and licensed Naturopathic Physician, Vice President for the Integrative Association of Naturopaths (Hong Kong), and the only Naturopathic Physician in Hong Kong to have completed a clinical residency. Her role as a mother, business leader, doctor and sought-after wellness speaker affords her a unique understanding of the challenges and solutions to achieve healthy work-life integration.

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