Folate vs Folic Acid
Chemically, both folic acid and folate might sound more or less the same as folate is the ionized form of the acid after losing a proton making it a carboxylate anion. However, this distinction between folic acid and folate is more of a biological nature. Here both these are referred to as a nutrient and more correctly a dietary supplement as they are forms of water soluble vitamin B. It is essential to maintain the correct amount of B vitamin in the body as it is a vital vitamin for many bodily functions. But humans cannot synthesize folate within the body and, therefore, needs to be taken through diet, to meet the daily requirements. The words folic acid and folate are derived from the Latin word ‘folium’ which means ‘leaf’.
Folic acid does not naturally occur in food. Other supplements are often used when the required amounts of folate in the body is not obtained naturally through food. Folic acid is one such type, but it is a synthetic form, and the way folic acid is metabolized is quite different from the way folate is metabolized in the dietary system within the body.
In order to enter the main folate metabolic cycle, folate or any other type of supplement used (i.e. folic acid) should be converted into ‘tetrahydrofolate’ (THF). Therefore to obtain this product, folic acid undergoes an initial reduction (addition of electrons/H atoms) followed by a methylation step (attaching a ‘methyl’ group) in the liver, and thereafter the conversion to THF requires an additional enzyme called ‘dihydrofolate reductase’. The proper activity of this enzyme is essential in order to breakdown folic acid efficiently and to produce the required amount of THF in order to meet the body’s vitamin B requirement.
On the other hand, the less activity of the enzyme, or higher consumption of folic acid exceeding a limited amount causes unmetabolized folic acid to get collected in blood and may lead to cancer. Furthermore, due to the presence of unmetabolized folic acid the need for folate will be masked and one might end up suffering from a vitamin B deficiency. That’s why it’s best to obtain folate naturally from food rather than over-relying on supplements.
Therefore, folic acid itself is not biologically active; it becomes biologically important only after the conversion of tetrahydrofolate and other derivatives into dihydrofolic acid in the liver.
Folate is the general term used for a group of water soluble B vitamins and refers to various THF derivatives naturally found in food. The best and the healthiest way to fulfill one’s folate requirement is through natural foods as other forms of dietary folate supplements are paired with many health risks when taken too much. But the adequate consumption of folate rich natural food is essential for health. The human body requires folate to synthesize and repair DNA, to aid rapid cell division and growth especially during infancy and pregnancy. Folate is also required for the production of healthy red blood cells in order to prevent anemic conditions. Unlike folic acid, folate naturally metabolizes into THF in the small intestine and enters the metabolic cycle faster with fewer enzyme dependencies than folic acid.
What is the difference between Folic Acid and Folate?
• Folate is a form of vitamin B naturally occurring in food while folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin.
• The metabolism of folic acid in the human body requires the action of an extra enzyme called ‘dihydrofolate reductase’ in the liver, whereas folate enters the metabolism cycle faster.
• Higher consumption of folic acid (through supplements) may lead to cancer, whereas there’s no such health hazard associated with the consumption of folate through natural foods.