Are There Foods that are High in Methylfolate?
Scientists are urging us to get more folate, especially methylfolate. But can we just get it from food?
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin and one of the most essential nutrients for healthy cognition, cardiovascular function, mood, fertility, as well as proper spine and brain development of a fetus. It’s also crucial for activating B12, converting homocysteine to methionine, and supporting the synthesis of SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) required for methylation.
Folate deficiency results in poor methylation and DNA instability, which has been linked to a higher frequency of chromosome breaks. These breaks and poor cell division increase the risk of numerous health conditions, including cancer and cognitive decline.
Certain fruits and vegetables contain various forms of folate, such as folinic acid and methylfolate, which may help support the methylation cycle while also providing other vitamins, minerals, and compounds. However, eating folate-rich foods is not the same as taking a supplement.
This article will discuss the specific foods high in methylfolate and folate and how food sources compare to supplements. We will also explain why methylfolate supplementation is vital for people with MTHFR and how to find the best methylfolate supplement.
What Foods Are High in Methylfolate?
Folate is a group of compounds known as dihydrofolate, methylfolate, monoglutamyl folates, and polyglutamyl folates.
Most dietary folates are in the polyglutamyl form (made up of several glutamate residues), while the synthetic form, folic acid, is a monoglutamate (one glutamate) form.
Dietary folates are reduced molecules, but folic acid is fully oxidized. These structural differences are key to the way the vitamin is absorbed and used in the body.
Evidence of methylfolate content of foods is mixed. However, the fruits and vegetables most commonly regarded as containing some methylfolate include:
Lactic acid fermentation has been shown to increase folate concentrations in vegetables significantly, almost double in some cases. A Swedish study found that among 10 different lactic acid bacteria (LAB) cultures, one mixture was able to almost double the folate concentration of grated and blanched root vegetables, mainly beetroots and turnips.
After the fermentation process, the vegetables contained high amounts of 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolic acid (5-CH3-H4-folate), a native and bioavailable form of folate. The concentration of the folate was similar in the surrounding liquid medium as in the solids of the final fermented product.
The yeast involved in the fermentation process also replaces the B-vitamin content that is lost when grains are baked or cooked. A Polish study found that folate content more than doubled. during the fermentation, and that niacin increased ten-fold. This was due to the microbial activity that occurs when sourdough ferments. The traditional Indian dish idli, for example, is a steam-fermented dough made of rice and black chickpeas. During the fermentation process, the folate content of idli may increase by almost 60%.
Folate in Foods
A wide range of foods are naturally rich in folate, methylfolate, and other compounds. These include:
- Beef liver
- Black-eyed peas
- Brussels sprouts
- Lettuce, romaine
- Avocado, raw
- Broccoli, steamed
- Mustard greens
- Green peas
- Kidney beans
- Wheat germ
- Turnip greens
- Sunflower seeds
- Fresh fruits, fruit juices
- Whole grains
It’s important to note that canning, freezing, or home-cooking can deplete food of folate. However, steaming involves almost no folate losses in contrast to boiling.
Dietary folate is mostly in a polyglutamyl, not monoglutamyl form. Polyglutamyl forms require deconjugation by an enzyme called Zn-dependent pteroylpolyglutamate hydrolase in order to be absorbed in the gut. Factors influencing the deconjugation process may affect folate’s bioavailability.
In those without the MTHFR mutation, most dietary folate is converted to methylfolate in the intestinal mucosa. The folate cycle begins with the conversion of dietary folate (B9) into dihydrofolate (DHF), which is then reduced to tetrahydrofolate (THF) by the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). THF is next converted to 5,10-methyleneTHF by serine hydroxymethyltransferase (SHMT). This process requires vitamin B6 as a cofactor.
In the final step, 5,10-methylene THF is reduced to 5-MTHF by the MTHFR enzyme.
Methylfolate Supplements vs. Food Sources
Although supplements should not replace food, there are many reasons they can provide the nutrients that a generally balanced diet cannot.
For a start, many fruits and vegetables today are grown and processed in a way that depletes their nutritional content. One study found that the nutritional content for 43 different vegetables and fruits had declined significantly in the past half-century, which was believed to be due to agricultural practices designed to improve size, growth rate, and pest resistance. Water-soluble vitamins are especially vulnerable to processing and cooking.
As a result, many plant foods will not actually be an adequate or reliable source of folate, especially for people who have heightened needs for folate.
In addition, these foods must first be processed by the digestive system before nutrients can be obtained. If digestion is hindered or weak, the amount of folate absorbed in the gut will be reduced even further. Gastrointestinal illness, poor gut microbiome, and pH imbalance in the gut can hinder folate absorption, along with certain drugs.
Those with MTHFR should avoid foods fortified with synthetic folic acid due to the body’s inability to metabolize it properly. This may lead to unmetabolized folic acid (UFA) syndrome, in which folic acid accumulates in high concentrations, causing a range of health issues.
Supplementation also guarantees the body will be obtaining a specific amount of methylfolate every day, which foods cannot. There is no way to measure the exact folate content in a particular food item, which makes it almost impossible to know if the body’s daily requirements are being met.
Why is Methylfolate Supplementation Important for People with MTHFR?
Those with MTHFR have increased demand for folate due to their inability to process it properly. Studies show that supplementation with methylfolate is the most effective option.
Supplementation with methylfolate is more efficient than with folic acid as it can bypass MTHFR deficiency. Methylfolate enters the folate cycle directly, without the need for enzymatic modification. It is the primary biologically active form of folate used by the body at the cellular level, which means it is immediately available for its many biological functions in the body.
L-methylfolate is also the only form that can be transported through the blood-brain barrier and across membranes for uptake in the body’s tissues. It is directly available for gastrointestinal absorption.
By bypassing this conversion step, supplementation with L-methylfolate has been shown to improve serum and CNS (central nervous system) folate levels. Studies have found that taking L-methylfolate can improve depressive symptoms. This has been shown in patients taking methylfolate alone or alongside antidepressant medication.
In a study involving patients with either the homozygous or wild-type MTHFR mutation, it was found that methylfolate induced significantly higher plasma folate concentration compared to folic acid in both genotypes. The researchers concluded that methylfolate increased plasma folate more effectively than folic acid, irrespective of MTHFR genotype.
Supplementation with methylfolate has been shown to effectively improve folate biomarkers in young women in early pregnancy, which can prevent neural tube defects.
What is the Right Methylfolate Supplement for You?
Finding the right methylfolate supplement can be difficult. The key features to look for are purity, efficacy, and dosage.
The Methyl-Life® product range is formulated especially for people with a heightened need for bioavailable folate due to MTHFR defects, dietary deficiencies (such as vegans or vegetarians), or other conditions in which nutritional absorption is impaired.
Unlike many other methylfolate brands, the Methyl-Life® range includes potencies from 2.5mg all the way up to 15mg. Most importantly, each product is made with the internationally-patented Magnafolate® PRO [(6S)-5-methyltetrahydrofolate, Calcium salt, Type C crystalline molecule (L-Methylfolate)]. This form of methylfolate is crystalline calcium salt-based for superior stability and absorption. Research has revealed that this proprietary form of methylfolate is approximately three times more pure and stable than other L-Methylfolates available on the health supplement market today.