Most people are led to believe that folate and folic acid are interchangeable. It can be shocking to discover that a long-held belief is not true, or at least not true in the way we assumed. Did you know that folic acid is actually a synthetic form of folate that has a slightly different molecular structure? As such, it requires the body to convert it into a form of folate the body can use through use of the MTHFR enzyme. For the general population, this is not a problem. Their bodies produce adequate MTHFR enzymes to convert folic acid into bioavailable folate and gain all of its benefits.
However, those with an MTHFR variant lack the MTHFR enzymes necessary to efficiently make this conversion. That means that this extra step of conversion that folic acid requires poses a big problem for the MTHFR community.
The end result of someone with an MTHFR variant supplementing with folic acid is two-fold:
The body can not the utilize folic acid efficiently, leading to a potential deficiency and a cascade of methylation-related problems.
Unconverted folic acid can actually block folate receptors from absorbing dietary folate, potentially leading to even worse folate deficiency and methylation-related problems.
Those who are heterozygous for an MTHFR variant (one copy) have a roughly 30% decrease in MTHFR enzyme activity, while those who are homozygous (two copies) have a roughly 70% decrease! For this reason, those who are homozygous may experience more severe consequences for supplementing with folic acid than their heterozygous cousins. This can be especially problematic when attempting to conceive or while pregnant, as most women will then begin high-dose folic acid supplementation.
There are a few folate-related things that everyone should do, upon finding out that they have an MTHFR variant:
Discontinue Folic Acid Supplementation
Go through all of your supplements and look at the ingredient label. If it says that it contains "folate," look at what form it provides. If you see "folic acid," you know it's time to say goodbye.
Begin Supplementation With Bioavailable Folate
Now that you have eliminated problematic supplements, be sure to replace them with products that will support your body and genetics. Sources of folate that you want to look for include methylfolate and folinic acid. Some people are sensitive to methylfolate and find that folinic acid is a better alternative for them. Seeking Health offers a range of excellent products that are optimized for the MTHFR variant.
Discontinue Consuming Enriched/Fortified Foods
Many processed foods are enriched/fortified with folic acid. Some common examples include breads, cereals, rice, pasta, baked goods, and miscellaneous snack foods. Always be sure to check the label. If it uses the words "enriched" or "fortified," then put it back. It's always a good rule of thumb to try to stick with clean, whole foods that are minimally processed as much as possible.
Consume Lots of Folate-Rich Foods
Now that you've cut out problematic processed foods, let's talk about foods that are difficult to overdo it on. While supplementation is important for a MTHFR, nothing can replace a healthy diet! Incorporate lots of folate-rich foods into your diet, such as leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, nuts, and seeds.
To take a deeper, guided dive into how to thrive with an MTHFR variant, check out Hey MTHFR Academy. This 16-week online course will give you the tools you need to harness the power of epigenetics and befriend your MTHFR gene.