Folate: Friend or Foe?

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on September 23rd, 2021

Could folate be your friend or foe?

Yesterday I was perusing my fitness magazines and couldn’t help but notice all the dietitians touting the importance of including more folate, from both food and supplements, for everyone.

And this got me thinking about how we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet experience higher rates of disease and injury, and die sooner than people in other high-income countries.

So how did we get this way?

Well, it all started during the Industrial Revolution when removing the bran from the germ of grains through milling and mass refining seemed like a good idea because it meant that grain products could sit on store shelves much longer without spoiling.

Then at the end of World War II, bakeries in America began using large amounts of chemicals, additives, bleaches, and preservatives (as much as 25 different chemicals are added to refined grain and bread products) to create even longer shelf life. Because this process strips all the vitamin and mineral content from the original source, these foods are “fortified and enriched” with vitamin and mineral forms our bodies do not recognize.

And at the top of the fortified and enriched list? Yep, you guessed it, folic acid.

What’s even worse is that in the United States and Canada, fortification became a mandatory practice in the 1990’s.

And the result of this practice?

Higher rates of cancer and a massive increase in things like autism, depression, bipolar disorder, autoimmune diseases and diabetes to name a few. You can read more about that here and here.

Or to put it another way, we began experiencing changes to our DNA in the form of genetic mutations or SNPs (pronounced snips) that create disease states. These are epigenetic in nature, which means that with diet, lifestyle, and nutrient therapy, we can correct these imbalances. By the way, we all have SNPs, they just manifest differently for each of us.

So what is folate?

Folate is a general term that denotes a group of water-soluble b-vitamins (B-9), while folic acid stands for the synthetic compound used in supplements and to fortify foods. Much has been said about these two forms, with the general consensus being that it’s ok in food form, but not so much in supplement form.

And herein lies the problem.

For those of us, that struggle with cognitive impairments, any form of folate, folic or folinic acid will function the same over time, regardless of whether it comes from food or supplements.

And when it comes to methyl folate, it’s not a better form, it’s simply a different form.

In other words, if you are undermethylated, you need to be very careful with folate because it is a serotonin reuptake promoter, (anti-depressants (SSRI’s) are reuptake inhibitors and undermethylated persons respond well to these medications) so it will make you feel worse. This explains why my years as a raw vegan on a high folate diet yielded devastating results for me.

Now I know what all that green juice was really doing to my body. And why one man’s food is another man’s poison.

Overmethylated individuals, however, thrive on folates because they have too much methyl and folate is a powerful demethylating agent.

Folic acid works in different ways in different parts of the cell. The part we need to be concerned about is the nucleus because it’s inside the cell that we see methyl loss and all forms of folic acid (even food-based) strip more methyl than they provide. 1

Researchers involved in the treatment of cancer now realize that folic acid is directly related to an increase in cancer rates. Methotrexate, a drug used to treat cancer, acts by inhibiting the metabolism of folic acid. It’s a great cancer agent, but unfortunately, the patient’s got worse and many died because folic acid was added back in. This is a good indicator as to why undermethylated persons have a greater propensity to develop cancer and do worse on folates. 2

If you know of someone who could benefit from this post, please share it. It is through sharing that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.

[1] [2] Mensah, Albert. MTHFR and Mental Health: Understanding The Overall Effect of Individual Genetic Mutations (SNPs)

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91 thoughts on “Folate: Friend or Foe?”

  1. How do you explain this? Is this article not stating that people with depression have a deficiency in folate and that taking folate (along with SSRI’s) helps with this?

    “Without the participation of 5-MTHF in this process, SAMe and neurotransmitter levels decrease in the cerebrospinal fluid, contributing to the disease process of depression.”

    “Depressed individuals with low serum folate also tend to not respond well to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant drugs. Correcting the insufficiency by dosing folate along with the SSRI results in a significantly better antidepressant response.”

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18950248/

    Here is another one.

    “Folate supplements especially levomefolic acid (L-5-methylfolate) demonstrated improvement in clinical outcomes in certain mental health conditions, such as in major depressive disorder (including postpartum and post-menopausal depression), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar affective disorder. Daily dosage range is 50 microgram to 15 mg orally daily depending on the clinical diagnosis and clinical presentation.”

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332221013287

    Where is the proof that folate is a Serotonin reuptake promotor in research studies?

    1. Hi Lisa – No, methylation status is determined via testing, but undermethylation is commonly seen in fibromyalgia.

  2. Hello. Are there any legumes that are lower folate? I am dairy, gluten and egg free due to food Intolerances. I feel like I am running out of food options.

    1. Hi Joanne – I wish I could share some low folate legumes with you, but there aren’t any. Animal proteins are your best source of low folate, bioavailable sources of zinc, and other important nutrients such as B6, which is needed for hormone and neurotransmitter balance.

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