Should a pregnant woman take folate or folic acid during pregnancy?
The answer is FOLATE!
Folate (Vitamin B9) plays a primary role in the complete development of red blood cells, decreases homocysteine levels in the blood, and promotes function of the nervous system. Folate is essential for healthy development and growth of the unborn baby in early pregnancy. When taken prior to conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy, folate can prevent 70% of cases of neural tube defects. The folate requirement for non-pregnant women is 400mcg daily and for pregnant women is 600-800mcg daily.
The neural tube develops into the brain, spinal cord, and the bones that encase them. By the 6th week of pregnancy, the unborn baby's neural tube is formed and closed. Typically women do not discover they are pregnant until after the time when increased folate supplementation would benefit the developing baby. Because of this, women of childbearing age, whether or not pregnancy is planned, should consider taking a daily prenatal vitamin with folate or a folate supplement.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. A rare enzyme called dihydrofolate reductase is the key enzyme required for folic acid metabolism. When large amounts of folic acid are consumed, either through supplementation or fortified foods, the lack of dihydrofolate reductase in the body causes high levels of un-metabolized folic acid to enter the blood stream. This can lead to health imbalances and complications.
Folate, on the other hand, is metabolized directly by the small intestines. Foods naturally high in folate include: avocados, leafy greens, oranges, broccoli, okra, seeds, nuts, beans, and lentils. When choosing a folate supplement, avoid taking anything that contains "folic acid". Instead, look for "folate", "5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate", "L-methylfolate", or "Metfolin". Read labels carefully!
I recommend my clients take a whole food prenatal vitamin such as Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal, My Kind Organics Prenatal Multi, MegaFood Baby & Me, or New Chapter Perfect Prenatal. For moms-to-be with an MTHFR mutation, I recommend Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal (need to add iron), Thorne Research Basic Prenatal, or Zahler Prenatal + DHA (not vegan).