- Folic Acid and L-Methylfolate: Which One is Better
November 21, 2023
Category : Uncategorized

Folate, often recognized as vitamin B9, encompasses a group of structurally related substances known for their beneficial effects on various health conditions. It refers to folic acid as well as naturally occurring metabolites such as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) and 5-formyltetrahydrofolate (10-formyl-THF). Even though we frequently use folic acid and methylfolate interchangeably, there is a distinction between the two. This article will discuss the distinctions between folic acid and folate, why folic acid is found in most multivitamins, and the potential benefits of methylfolate supplements.

What is Folate: An Overview

folic acid and L-methylfolate

Folate is a vitamin B that occurs naturally in many foods. These foods include leafy greens, citrus fruits, almonds, beans, peas, shellfish, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and grains. Your body requires folate to produce new red blood cells and DNA, the genetic material in your cells. Since this vitamin aids in a fetus’s growth and development and may help avoid birth abnormalities, it is particularly important for expectant mothers.

Folate deficiency can cause a variety of health issues, including the following:

  • Anemia
  • Higher risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Compromised immune system
  • Digestive issues
  • Mood disorders
  • Neural tube defects

Low folate levels in the blood have been related to poor brain function and an increased risk of dementia. In elderly persons, the risk of mental impairment may be increased even by technically normal but somewhat low folate levels. Consuming enough folate is also shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Folate is essential for the production of neurotransmitters, which influence mental health. Insufficient folate has been connected to depression and other mental health issues. For instance, blood folate levels may be lower in depressed individuals than in those who are not depressed. A 2022 review of studies suggests that folate intake may lessen the symptoms of bipolar disorder and postpartum depression. Combining folate supplements with antidepressant prescription might be more effective in relieving depressive symptoms than just using antidepressant medication.

Foods High in Folic Acid


Eating a balanced diet rich in foods high in folic acid or folate is the best strategy to prevent folate deficiency. As mentioned above, leafy veggies, dairy, legumes, and grains contain naturally occurring folate. In addition to these foods, you can also try eating food items that are fortified with folic acid, such as:

  • Flour
  • Bread
  • Noodles
  • Pasta
  • Cereal

Among other things, your age determines how much folate you require each day. The average adult needs 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate each day. Pregnant women should use a folic acid or methylfolate supplement to ensure they are getting adequate folate each day.

Folic Acid: What is it?

Despite their frequent interchangeability, the names “folic acid” and “folate” refer to distinct forms of the same vitamin, vitamin B9. Folic acid is a vitamin that is water soluble. The term “folate” refers to a group of vitamins B9 that includes folic acid and 5-MTHF. One particular synthetic version of this vitamin is folic acid.

Because your body cannot produce folate, you must obtain it through food. Certain foods are naturally high in folate. Other foods are fortified with folic acid. Folic acid is also available as a nutritional supplement.

Methylfolate: What is it?


Methylfolate, commonly known as L-methylfolate or 5-MTHF, is the active, naturally occurring form of folate in the body. Unlike folic acid, a synthetic type of folate commonly found in supplements and fortified foods, methylfolate is a form that the body can directly utilize.

Methylfolate is particularly important for healthy fetal development and the prevention of neural tube abnormalities during pregnancy. Some pregnant women could have trouble converting folic acid into its active form; in these situations, taking methylfolate supplements can be beneficial.

Methylfolate supplements are often prescribed to expectant mothers with certain genetic variants (such as the MTHFR gene mutation) limiting the body’s capacity to convert folic acid to its active form. The body receives the active form of folate it requires when methylfolate is used directly, omitting this conversion stage.

When Should You Take Folic Acid?

When it comes to pregnancy, the best times to take folic acid are right before conception and in the first trimester. Folic acid supplements are advised for women of childbearing age in order to avoid neural tube abnormalities in developing fetuses. Folic acid should ideally be taken by women for the duration of the first trimester, beginning at least one month before conception.

Key Differences between Methylfloate and Folic Acid

Folic acid and methylfolate are two types of vitamin B9 (folate) that differ in structure and how the body uses them.  Here are the key differences:

Chemical Structure

Folic Acid: folic acid is vitamin B9 in synthetic form. The body must first convert Folic acid into methylfolate, which is its active form, in order for it to be used.

Methylfloate: Nethylfolate is the active, natural form of folate that the body may use right away without conversion.

Conversion in the body

Folic Acid: The liver must undergo an enzymatic process in order to convert folic acid into methylfolate, which is the active form. Genetic variations may cause this conversion to be less effective in some people.

Methylfolate: Since methylfolate is already in its active form, the body can use it without needing conversion.


Folic Acid: After being transformed into its active form, folic acid is absorbed in the small intestine.

Methylfolate: The body may absorb and use methylfolate directly without requiring conversion.




Folic acid: It is frequently added to foods that have been fortified and is utilized in dietary supplements.

Methylfolate: For people who might have trouble converting folic acid to its active form, like those with specific genetic abnormalities, methylfolate supplements are available.

Neural Tube Defects

Folic Acid: To protect the developing fetus from neural tube abnormalities, folic acid supplements are advised throughout pregnancy.

Methylfolate: If a women does not convert folic acid efficiently, methylfolate may be prescribed in certain situations and is also helpful during pregnancy.

Folic Acid vs L-Methylfolate: Which One Should You Take?


While folic acid is generally recommended during pregnancy, studies suggest that about 40-60% may carry genetic variations in the methyl tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme, potentially affecting the body’s ability to convert folic acid into L-methylfolate, the active form of the vitamin.

Thus, pregnant women who are at risk for neural tube defects (NTDs) or who are expecting preterm babies may choose to take methylfolate supplements or prenatal vitamins that contain L-methylfolate, the active form of folate. If you are not deficient in the enzyme methyl tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and your body can turn folic acid into the active form (L-methylfolate), taking folic acid supplements can help ensure a healthy pregnancy and normal growth for your baby.

However, additional study is needed to fully understand the benefits and uses of folic acid, as well as any potential impact on neural tube abnormalities and the health implications of folic acid supplements on both the mother and the fetus.

Dosing Information

The Recommended dosage for folate is added in Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFEs). This unit of measurement considers variations in how your body absorbs folic acid from supplements and fortified foods, as well as folate from food. Only about half of the folic acid from supplements and natural folate is absorbed by your body

Approximately 400 mcg DFE of folate is required daily for adults. However, women may require more folate when pregnant or nursing. Pregnancy-related RDA is 600 mcg DFE. If genetic variations impede an expectant mother’s ability to convert folic acid into methylfolate, she may need to consider a higher concentration of L-methylfolate supplementats.

How Much Folate is too much?

But if you’re getting your folate from food sources in addition to supplements, is it possible to have too much of it in your body? As of right now, there are no recommendations for varying the necessary levels of folate supplementation according on food intake. However, because folate dissolves in water, any extra nutrients will naturally exit your body. Nevertheless, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises against consuming more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day as the top limit of folate supplementation. However, if you are getting all your folate from foods such as green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), brussels sprouts, asparagus, oranges, avocado, milk, yogurt, almonds, and beans, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It is not possible to overdose on high concentrations of a nutrient derived from food.

Folic Acid and L-Methylfolate: Final Word

To sum up, folic acid and L-methylfolate are both important types of folate that can help ensure a safe pregnancy. Folic acid is the more popular folate. It is also more easily accessible and available to anyone wanting to take it. Furthermore, compared to L-methylfolate, more study data is available on its use. However, for people who have trouble converting folic acid into its active form, L-methylfolate might be a better option. If you are in doubt, consult your healthcare practitioner to determine which would work best for you.