Can Folate Supplementation Have Benefits During Pregnancy and After Childbirth?
Anyone who has had a child or in the process of having one has likely heard all about folate supplementation and how important it is to increase Vitamin B9 consumption during pregnancy. It’s an essential part of growth and development in humans, which is why we must consume it on a daily basis -- pregnant or not, male or female, child or adult.
If you’ve been confused with all the folate talk you’ve heard about in social media ads, you’re not alone. We understand how complex of a subject it is and hopefully, we can help you grasp the concept a little more. Trust us; you’d be surprised at how important it is for your body.
For the new mothers, incoming mothers, or those that are merely thinking about having a child, we’ll break down everything you need to know -- including what folate is, why and how your body uses it, why it’s important for mothers and newborns, how much you’ll need, and ways you can increase your daily intake with ease.
Let’s get started!
What Is Folate and Why Do You Need It?
As we mentioned above, folate is the form of Vitamin B9 that occurs naturally in the body and in food. It is often confused with folic acid, which is simply the synthetic man-made form of Vitamin B9. While the average American will be exposed to folic acid in their diet more than folate, a healthy diet would actually be the other way around.
Vitamin B9 plays a wide variety of roles in the body. It’s most notably known for building and repairing DNA and RNA, but it l also helps the body regulate hormones and neurotransmitters, improves gene expression, reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood, and a deficiency has been linked to a variety of birth defects.
The confusion usually begins when trying to decide which form of Vitamin B9 to take. Both folic scid and folate will provide the benefits listed above, but they will each have to go through a series of processes before our bodies can actually use them. The difference between the two lies in how long it takes before becoming available to the body’s cells.
Folate will have a much easier path in the body. It will first need to interact with the MTHFR enzyme to be converted into its active form -- L-Methylfolate. Once converted, the magic begins!
With folic acid, however, the path it has to take would be known as the “long way home.” Not only will it take longer, but there’s a chance a majority of the folic acid you consume never even gets converted into L-Methylfolate, in fact, it can turn into a ‘bad form’ unmetabolized folic acid and clog up your bloodstream. This is why consuming too much folic acid, as opposed to folate, is actually detrimental to your overall health.
How Do Folate Affect Pregnant Mothers and Their Children?
Folate deficiency can be harmful to anyone, but the stakes are higher for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and the newborns they’re feeding the entire time. Not only will you need to increase your intake for the sole reason of having to support another human being, but you’ll need to do it because it’s important to the development and growth of the baby’s organs.
In fact, folate deficiency has been linked to a variety of birth defects that could’ve been avoided with proper folate supplementation. It can help prevent neural tube defects, anencephaly (brain defect), spina bifida, encephalocele, congenital heart defects, issues with the blood vessels, cleft lip, and cleft palate.
As for the mother, folate supplementation can help keep them healthy and functioning properly throughout the duration of the pregnancy and post-birth. It plays an important role in the synthesis of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine, helping you feel a little brighter each and every day and keeping postpartum depression away.
There’s a reason doctors are constantly urging pregnant women and new mothers to keep a close eye on their folate consumption and ensure they’re getting an adequate amount daily.
How Much Folate Do We Need On a Daily Basis?
Many people assume keeping track of the foods you eat will be difficult. While it will definitely be something you’re not used to, it’s actually much easier than you’d think. According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnant women or women seeking to become pregnant should consume 400mcg of folate each day -- in addition to the normal amount they eat in food. It’s worth noting that this recommendation was made long before the discovery of the MTHFR gene defects ever happened. So those with MTHFR might need significantly more than that amount to keep themselves and their unborn babies healthy - definitely ask your doctor.