The link between folate and fertility is undeniable. Folate is necessary for DNA methylation and cell division, therefore it’s also essential in the development of egg cells that are able to successfully implant in the uterus. If you want to conceive, you need folate.
The problem is, folate is regarded as an umbrella term by many people, including health professionals. They consider synthetically produced folic acid to be the same thing as naturally occurring folate. However, the differences between folic acid and folate are stark, and those differences may be the reason why fertility is decreasing worldwide.
Folic acid: the good and the bad
Folic acid was first introduced to food in North America in 1998 to reduce the number of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. It worked. There is no doubt that neural tube defects have decreased as a result, and the practice of adding folic acid to food has been taken up in many countries around the world. But is this a case of having too much of a good thing? In fertility terms, it could well be.
Standard western diets now include a lot of folic acid. This artificial form of folate is added to breakfast cereals, commercially baked bread, protein bars, shakes, and energy drinks. Add in a folic acid supplement as prescribed or recommended by a health professional, and soon our bodies can be ingesting an estimated 1000 mcg or micrograms a day.
1000 micrograms! As far as the Dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) enzyme is concerned, that is way too much. The DHFR enzyme breaks down folic acid and natural folates into tetrahydrofolate which is, essentially, a key nutrient for those wanting to conceive. But the DHFR enzyme can only metabolize about 200 micrograms of folic acid per day and, in this modern era of fortified foods and supplements, daily intakes of folic acid far exceed those levels.
The barrier in your folate pathway
As a result of having to deal with too much folic acid, the DHFR enzyme becomes inhibited or slowed. This leads to a build-up of folic acid and folates at the beginning of the folate cycle within the body. Think of the folate cycle as a pathway towards pregnancy. The build-up of unmetabolized folic acid and folates becomes something of a barrier in that pathway, an insurmountable wall that can prevent conception.
This can be compounded in anyone with the MTHFR gene mutation. If you have an MTHFR mutation, your MTHFR enzyme can have a function loss of up to 70%, and your folate cycle becomes drastically less efficient as a result. It gets even worse when folic acid is a large part of your diet, and it is topped up with a supplement recommended by someone working under the false belief that folic acid and natural folate are one and the same. Little wonder I counsel anyone with the MTHFR gene mutation to avoid folic acid, as it can have other adverse effects as well, such as compromising the immune system.
The beauty of folate, and where to find it
Folates are not all the same, so its important that you understand what naturally occuring folates are. This is especially important if you’ve been trying to become pregnant. Look for natural sources of folate. These include:
- Brussel sprouts
- sunflower seeds
- winter and summer squashes
These foods are high in folate, and that is good for you in many ways. Folate can protect against certain birth defects, and it is necessary for synthesizing and repairing DNA, proper cell division, and production of red blood cells. Folate metabolizes directly in the small intestine without fuss, unlike folic acid which can have a much more disruptive effect.
Knowing the difference between folate and folic acid, and accepting these IS a difference, is hugely important. It could explain, partly, the worldwide decline in fertility, and it could be the key to your future happiness. It’s time to start checking ingredient labels on commercially produced foods, and it could also be time to join our Facebook group and find out more about the crucial differences between the two.
When you are trying to get pregnant its not enough to rely on food to get your folate. You need a good prenatal supplement with active folate.