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

Chinese version 跳至中文版

If I asked you which of these vitamins was found naturally in food, folate or folic acid, 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. They are not the same, however.

Folate is the natural form of this nutrient found in foods. Human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943. Food fortification was deemed mandatory in the USA due to overwhelming evidence for the protective effect of folic acid supplementation before conception and during early pregnancy on the development of neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns.

Deficiency had been reported to be the most common, owing to absence of green vegetables or lentils in the average diet.

While folic acid is often considered to be a supplemental form of folate, there is an important distinction between these two different compounds, folic acid doesn’t always work and indeed for some it may even be harmful.

This is because of a genetic variation known as “MTHFR 677 C>T variant genotypes” that affects about 45% of all women. Only folate works properly for those who have these genotypes. Natural folate—not folic acid—is the sure way to be protecting your unborn child from folate deficiency symptoms.

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 folates doubles for mums-to-be.

Folate deficiency is associated with such conditions as:

  • Neural Tube Defects, a serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain which arise during the early development of the embryo, most common being spina bifida.
  • Autism. A mean daily folic acid intake of ≥600 mcg (compared with <600 mcg) during the first month of pregnancy was associated with reduced autism spectrum disorder risk (Odds ratio: 0.62; meaning some 38% lower rate). Am J Clin Nutr. July 2012 vol.96 no.1, 80-89.

It was shown that the association between folic acid and reduced Austsm risk was strongest for mothers and children with MTHFR 677 C>T variant genotypes. These are the mothers who would have done even better had their supplement been folate, not folic acid as it is easier for the body to use by all genotypes.

How Much Folate Is Ideal?

Folate technically is called 5 MTHFR for Methyl-tetra-hydra-folate, and some supplement brands list this.

Before and during pregnancy, IMI recommends 600-1000 mcg of folate as 5-MTHFR. Take care not to overdose: too much folate or folic acid is possibly harmful.

Also consider to monitor blood folate and vitamin B12 levels to be in the upper normal range, but not excess to normal range. Excesses of B12 or folic acid may be associated with increased autism—as reported from a Boston study in The FASEB Journal April 2016 vol.30 no.1 Supplement 151.6.

It is therefore important to keep blood levels of these vitamins within the normal range.

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.

error: Content is protected !!
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap