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Folic Acid Vs. Folate: What’s the Difference?

By Dr. Olivia Paul (she/her), Naturopathic Doctor

You may have heard about folic acid and folate – they sound similar, so what’s the difference? In this article, our Dr. Olivia Paul, Naturopath, explains the difference and everything you need to know.


First, let’s talk about folate, which is vitamin B9. It is the active form of vitamin B9, and it plays a key role in fertility, pregnancy, and health of your baby. Why?

Folate helps with promoting DNA formation, cell formation, and cellular division. In these ways, it assists with periods of rapid growth, such as pregnancy and infancy. It’s also known to prevent neural tube defects.

Folate can be obtained from the diet through leafy green vegetables, fruits, legumes, and eggs. However, in order to get a therapeutic dose, you’d have to be eating a lot of those four types of foods. So, oftentimes we’ll see the recommendation to supplement during pregnancy or preconception, just to ensure that you’re getting enough so that it can perform that key role in your body.


Folic acid is actually the synthetic precursor to folate and it requires an extra step for your body to convert from folic acid to folate. It uses an enzyme to do this. That enzyme is called MTHFR or methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This is where things can get a little tricky because up to 60% of the population has a genetic mutation that affects the function of that enzyme that can cause a poor conversion between folic acid and folate.


Now, we have no way of knowing who has that genetic mutation without being screened — and oftentimes no one’s being screened for this, unless something in their health history suggests it’s necessary, but it’s very rare to be tested on a regular basis. This is why supplementing with folate from the beginning helps to protect against the concern that you might be a poor converter from folic acid to folate.

What you want to look for is L-Methylfolate, listed on your prenatal vitamin (not folic acid).

So that’s it, that’s really what you need to know about folic acid and folate. Is it a bad to use folic acid? No, but it’s better if you use folate because it helps us to know that you’re getting the active form of folate and it’s bypassing that need to have that enzyme in the body.

Prenatal SAP is the prenatal supplement that we recommend at West End Mamas. It has L-Methylfolate in it. That said, many other brands do as well, so watch for it on the ingredient list.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pre-natal or post-natal health and nutrition, contact West End Mamas to book an appointment with our Naturopath Dr. Olivia Paul, ND.

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