The Great Folate Mistake

The first thing that anyone who finds out they have the MTHFR gene variant should do is to stop consuming folic acid. The second thing is to start consuming lots of folate, its all-natural cousin. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, also known as vitamin B9. Because their molecular structures are nearly identical, these two compounds are generally considered to be interchangeable. While folic acid may pose no problem for someone without the MTHFR gene mutation, it poses a BIG problem for us!

After ingestion, both folic acid and folate must be converted into the active form of folate, also known as L-methylfolate or 5-MTHF. The problem with folic acid is that it relies on enzymes produced by the MTHFR gene for its final step of conversion that those with the gene variant do not produce enough of! This leaves us with a severe B9 deficiency, as well as harmful effects from a buildup of unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream. Those who are heterozygous (one expression) of the MTHFR gene variant have a 30% decrease in MTHFR enzyme activity, while those who are homozygous (double expression) have a 70% decrease!

Many processed foods are enriched with folic acid. Always read the labels. If it says "enriched with," you can usually put it back without even reading the rest. Even nutritional supplements often use this synthetic form of folate! I remember growing up, my Mom pushed me to take a B vitamin complex. I always complained because I swore the vitamins made me feel worse. Of course, she didn't believe me because "B vitamins make everyone feel better!" She had the best of intentions, but we did not know at the time that both of us are homozygous for the MTHFR gene variant and the vitamins contained high doses of folic acid.

Folate, on the other hand, is found naturally in a variety of foods. It is especially prevalent in dark green leafy vegetables and sprouted legumes. Once you stop eating processed foods that are enriched with folic acid, and switch to a nutritional supplement that uses the proper form of folate, some diet changes are in order. You need to become BFFs with lots of foods, such as kale, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, oranges, avocado, brussels sprouts, seeds, and nuts.

If you need an easy way to recall which compound is which, just remember: folate is great and acid is bad!

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