Does Folic Acid Help Toddler Behavior?
We’ve all heard of folic acid or seen it on the back of an ingredient label. It’s one of the most common B-complex vitamins and can be found fortified in a variety of different foods we eat on a daily basis.
Despite how common it is, there’s a growing amount of confusion around what folic acid is and why it’s so important to our daily diet. A majority of this confusion is due to the fact that folic acid is often confused with folate, Vitamin B9, and methylfolate (L-methylfolate), it’s more expensive, but most active & absorbable form.
Believe it or not, these are all forms of Vitamin B9 and can all be beneficial to your toddler’s growth and development. Still, there are several differences between them that are important to understand before supplementing with any of them.
The truth is folic acid deficiency will have a wide range of effects on your toddler and plays an essential role in the development of your child’s organs, tissues, and brain function. Unfortunately, supplementing with synthetic, man-made folic acid isn’t always the best choice -- especially if your toddler suffers from an MTHFR gene mutation.
Don’t worry; we’ll break down everything you need to know about the different types of Vitamin B9, how they affect your child’s health and behavior, and how you can prevent deficiencies from forming in your toddler.
Understanding Vitamin B9
Like we mentioned above, Vitamin B9 comes in a variety of forms. The three you need to know are folic acid, folate, and methylfolate. While folic acid is the form seen in most people’s diets and is often the most talked about, it’s also the least effective form of Vitamin B9 in the bunch.
Folic acid is known as the synthetic form of Vitamin B9. It’s the form that was made by man and is fortified into certain foods we eat. It’s also still what most doctors recommend to women planning on getting pregnant, which is so unfortunate based on what we now know about folate metabolism in the body.
In order for your body to use folic acid, it must first be converted into an active form with the help of an enzyme. From there, it’ll need to further convert into methylfolate before finally being used by the body. This is a long process that for most won’t even convert all the folic acid you consumed into the form your body needs to function, L-Methylfolate.
Folate, which is known as the natural form of Vitamin B9, is found in the foods we eat -- as opposed to being man-made and fortified. It’s more effective than folic acid because it’ll directly convert into methylfolate with the help of the MTHFR enzyme. This means a shorter process and a higher conversion rate.
Lastly, we have methylfolate -- which is the active form of Vitamin B9. As we mentioned, folic acid and folate both have to be converted into methyl folate before the body can use it. Without this conversion, Vitamin B9 will basically go to waste and be excreted from the body.
Why Is Folic Acid Important?
Folic acid is important because in the past it’s always been the form that allows us to supplement outside of the foods we eat. Since most people won’t get enough folate in their typical diet -- which we’ll get into shortly -- being able to increase those levels with a capsule makes it extremely easy. But is it really that easy with folic acid, we’ll explain why not … keep reading.
Folic acid -- or folate -- plays a number of roles in the body and a deficiency can have a negative effect on the health of your toddler. It can even have an effect on their behavior, whether it be ADHD, depression, or another mood-related syndrome.
Here’s a list of the various benefits folic acid supplementation can have on your toddler (when and IF your child can convert it to L-Methylfolate):
- Supports growth and development of cells, organs, and tissue
- Essential in producing and repairing DNA or RNA
- Helps prevent a wide range of birth defects, including spina bifida and other neural tube defects
- Reduces risk of heart complications
- Could reduce the risk of cleft lip or cleft palate
In addition to that, folic acid deficiency has been linked to megaloblastic anemia. This can lead to a variety of health concerns, including headaches, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, difficulty focusing, and being irritated easily.
Folate has even been studied for its effect on depression and has been seen working alongside antidepressants. As you can see, it can have a big effect on how your toddler behaves and develops overall.
The thing you may not know is that folic acid is the old way of supplementing, the way we used to think was most helpful, until we learned more from the Human Genome Project and MTHFR was discovered, the gene responsible for the final conversion of folic acid into L-5-Methylfolate (the form your body needs to use at the cellular level). Now, whether you have an MTHFR gene mutation or not, you can supplement with the most active form of folate, which allows your body to immediately access its health benefits, which is not the case with folic acid and anyone dealing with an MTHFR variant.
How Much Folic Acid Should Pregnant Women Get?
Now that we understand the importance of folic acid, folate, and methylfolate, let’s discuss how much a pregnant woman should take. This is important to do before getting pregnant and during the third trimester. Of course, this will be the start of ensuring your toddler develops correctly -- before and during conception!
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended amount of folic acid for an average woman is 1,000mcg per day. For a pregnant woman, they are directed to take an additional 400mcg every day.
Any doctor up on genetics worth their salt will be prescribing a pregnant woman L-Methylfolate and NOT folic acid. They’ve learned that having the bioactive form easily available for absorption is most effective. The prescription amount of L-Methylfolate available in a “medical food” prenatal called NeevoDHA is 1,000mcg and yet some docs will prescribe between 1,000-4,000 mcg depending upon the woman’s history with miscarriage or genetic variant MTHFR. Combining a methylfolate supplement with a healthy dose of folate through natural foods will put you and your toddler in the best position moving forward.
How Much Folic Acid Should Toddlers Get?
While folic acid supplementation hasn’t been established for newborns, the National Institutes of Health does have a recommended amount for children above the age of one. For any child aged one to three, they should be getting 300mcg per day.
This number will jump up to 400mcg from the age of four to eight, and then 600mcg from age 9-13. As a parent, you’ll have to ensure your toddler/child is receiving enough folate in their diet. Of course, the best way to do this will be through a healthy diet and healthy eating habits.
Food Sources Containing Folic Acid
To give you a full idea of where we get folic acid and folate from, we’ll detail some of the most common sources of each. Remember, folate is naturally found in foods while folic acid is fortified (added) to foods.
Here are some sources of folic acid:
- Fortified bread, flour, rice, and pasta
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Fortified corn tortillas
Here are some common sources of folate:
- Asparagus and brussels sprouts
- Dark green leafy vegetables including spinach
- Citrus fruits like oranges -- and orange juice
- Nuts and seeds
- Beef liver
As you might’ve guessed, getting enough folate or folic acid in your system is difficult for most people. Even those that do get enough will likely get more folic acid than folate. We mentioned earlier that not all the folic acid you consume will be converted to methylfolate. This is why loading up on folic acid isn’t worth it.
Can Supplements Help With Folic Acid Absorption?
Folic acid supplements may help some people, there’s no doubt about it. However, when it comes to supplementing with folic acid, there can be complications with absorption due to genetic conversion challenges, so you’re MUCH better off going with the bioactive form -- methylfolate, even though it’s more expensive. It’s just plain more effective and usable by the body.