What is methylated folic acid?
Methylated folic acid, also more correctly referred to as methylfolate, is a nutrient that belongs to the vitamin B family. The body needs folate and cannot produce it on its own, so folate needs to be consumed in the diet or by supplementation. Folate is primarily responsible for the easy conversion of carbohydrates into glucose in our bodies. Folate is essential in red blood cell formation, cell division, detoxification, and the production of some neurotransmitters. For this reason, folic acid is a supplement often prescribed to pregnant women to prevent certain birth defects.(2)
Why methylated folate is growing in popularity
Although folate is needed by the body and folic acid is widely used as a supplement, recent research has identified that up to 50% of the population is not able to convert folic acid—the synthetic form of B9—into absorbable folate. This genetic difference can mask vitamin B12 deficiency and lead to a host of other health problems including birth defects. As people have become more aware of the body’s need for folate and the chance that folic acid may not be an effective form of supplementation, methylated folate has increased in popularity. (2)
What are the benefits of methylated folate?
The benefits of taking methylated folic acid can be enjoyed by both men and women. The primary benefit is that you don’t have to know whether your body can convert the synthetic folic acid into natural folate: methylated folate supplements ensure that all of the following benefits are available to you. (1)
Prevention of neural tube defects
This is perhaps one of its most notable advantages. Methylated folate has been known to aid in the prevention of some birth defects. Folate is necessary for proper fetal brain and neural tube development. Increasing the intake of folate has helped to drastically reduce this problem.
Prevention of heart disease
Once methylated folate is included in your diet, the chances of suffering from a number of heart conditions is greatly reduced. Even though it has not yet been clinically proven, the presence of vitamin B complex supplements in your food can lead to a reduction of homocysteine levels which can make you be less prone to heart disease and stroke.
Research has shown that people who don’t get enough folate regularly and in its required form have had more problems controlling the symptoms of depression, even with the aid of antidepressants. Depression can be more effectively controlled when using the right antidepressant in combination with methylated folate in the body.
Other conditions that may be prevented with the regular consumption of folate include:
- Periodontal disease
- Vascular disease
What is reduced folic acid conversion?
L-Methylfolate is essential for life. It’s required for the healthy functioning of nearly every bodily system: cardiovascular, endocrine, reproductive, and detoxification. It’s also involved in cell biosynthesis, which means requirements are even greater during pregnancy and periods of rapid growth (3).
L-methylfolate plays a major role in the ‘recycling’ of homocysteine to methionine. This is crucial for reducing homocysteine levels in the body. Elevated homocysteine has been linked to numerous chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.
Without folate, your body’s ability to produce healthy DNA and neurotransmitters is severely compromised. Low levels of L-methylfolate can also lead to sub-optimal production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This can result in depression, anxiety, and reduced cognitive function.
Folic acid conversion is tricky. To use folic acid (the most common form of folate) your body must first convert it to activated folate. This requires the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).
However, around 60 percent of US individuals have a genetic variation which impairs the function of the MTHFR enzyme (4). This means folic acid conversion into methylfolate does not occur.
Simply put: your body cannot use folate if it is not activated. Reduced folic acid conversion leads to suboptimal levels of folate, and a range of negative health effects.
MTHFR Methylfolate and the Folic Acid Activation Cycle
Any folic acid you ingest must be broken down into dihydrofolate (DHF), then tetrahydrofolate (THF), and then finally into L-methylfolate. Only then can your body transport it into your cells, tissues, and across the blood-brain barrier (5).
Signs of Methylfolate Deficiency
Lack of L-Methylfolate can lead to poor short-term memory, reduced concentration, insomnia, reduced motor control, hormone imbalances, mood instability, low motivation, poor appetite control, and mood disorders.
L-Methylfolate is the only form of folate able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This makes it the most effective option for people with MTHFR gene variations.
L-Methylfolate is already activated, which means your body can use it immediately.
Supplementing with L-Methylfolate has been shown to:
- Reduce homocysteine levels in the blood and support vascular health
- Promote healthy peripheral nerve function by increasing nitric oxide production
- Aid in the normal metabolism of uric acid
- Reduces the occurrence of neural tube defects in pregnant women
- Support healthy production of neurotransmitters required for normal mood