Methylfolate vs. Folic Acid Facts and Myths

In today’s post, Dr. Albert Mensah (my personal physician) and I address the facts and myths surrounding methylfolate, folic acid, and folinic acid.

Folic acid supplements, also called Vitamin B-9, are a way to take concentrated amounts of folate, which is naturally found in many foods including green leafy vegetables, and fortified in pastas and breads. Folic acid helps us utilize proteins in our bodies, form new blood cells, and create new DNA. Many medical studies have promoted folic acid supplements for the prevention of neural tube defects in infants as well as prevention for heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Proponents of folic acid supplements often think that more is better, both in dose amount and duration of supplementation. In our practice we have seen negative side effects to indiscriminate folic acid supplementation. It is not a supplement that should be taken long term without specific biochemical laboratory testing and evaluation due to the very negative side effects that could arise. It is not only important to know who would benefit from taking folic acid and how much is beneficial, but there is also a need to understand which form is best for each individual patient.

What many people (especially practitioners) fail to understand is the duality of folic acid activity. In one area, it’s a donor of methyl, so for an undermethylator, they think folic acid or methylfolate is a great thing. In actuality, that’s not correct because in the nucleus, which is the command center of the cell, where we are trying to affect change, folic acid removes methyl. This can alter many cellular mechanisms including detoxification. This is because all forms of folate strip methyl at the level of DNA. That same folic acid works differently outside the nucleus of the cell where it actually donates some methyl into the system.

Yes, Methylfolate Works Faster

Many people have come to believe that methylated folate is the best form of folate to take for optimal health, regardless of their methylation status and other biochemical imbalances. This is not entirely accurate.

Let’s address a few issues regarding methylfolate and folic acid that have been circulating the internet lately, and hopefully help our patients understand the purpose of methylated folate and when it should not be the preferred choice of folic acid supplements.

Faster is not always better, although some folks think that using methylfolate is a better option because methylated folate is assimilated by the body faster. The different forms of folate, in general, will be converted to the same end product overall. However, a person who is overmethylated would not want to take methylated folate because it will add a small amount of methyl before it removes methyl.

Folic Acid Supplements: Why Process Doesn’t Matter As Much

Most folks misunderstand the process involved in the metabolism of folic acid versus methylfolate. This is the key to understanding the difference between how folate gets into the cell, or the time it takes to do that, versus the end goal of having a physiological effect from taking the particular form of folate you have ingested.

Folic acid doesn’t have to be de-methylated, but methylated folate does. Even though methylfolate gets into the system faster, it doesn’t actually begin to work faster than folic acid would, because there is the extra step of de-methylation before it can be utilized. It is only absorbed faster. It still needs processing. Quicker absorption has to go through longer processing and can ultimately take longer to complete the utilization process.

It’s like the difference between taking a direct flight to a city and taking a connecting flight to the same city. There are more steps, more delays, when you take a connecting flight that re-routes you through another city. One way takes longer. One way is more direct. Once something enters a cell there is a whole lot that goes on. Whether you take a direct route or a re-routed path makes little difference in the end. By the time it is all said and done these pieces are all moving in the same direction. The only difference we are talking about is the rate at which they are moving.

The Dangers of Methylfolate

Methylated folate is not a one size fits all folic acid supplement. For some it can have adverse effects, and unless you are tested for your methylation status, you do not know whether or not it will be beneficial or detrimental to you.

Let me pose a question to you. What happens to that methyl contained in methylated folate? That methyl is going to get absorbed into your body. If you are giving that methyl to a person who is overmethlyated it is like adding kerosene to put out a fire. You’ll make your methylation imbalance worse. Overmethylated patients should use folic acid that is not methylated. If you are overmethylated do not take methylated folate or any other product that is methylated.

But Folic Acid is Synthetic, and That’s Bad, Right?

Folic acid is synthetic, yes. But it is not unhealthy. It works, and it works better than natural forms in most cases. Folic acid is used to fortify foods and is found in most dietary supplements, simply because it is more stable and bioavailable than natural folates. Historically, since the days of Carl Pfeiffer, the pioneer in orthomolecular medicine, we have traditionally used folic acid for our patients and it has shown to be extremely efficient and effective. The notion that folic acid is synthetic and is not effective is incorrect. Anytime you take something out of nature and take it into a lab, it is synthetic. The truth is that folic acid works.

Folinic acid is metabolically active. Yes, that is correct. This means that folinic acid does not require enzymatic conversion before it can be utilized. Folinic acid can be found naturally in foods, but in order to benefit from folinic acid, it has to be prescribed in therapeutic doses for our patients. There are times when we may prefer the use of folinic acid to folic acid when we work with certain patient populations. Folinic acid has its best utility in autism, as we have seen over the years of research and clinical practice at Pfeiffer Treatment Center, now closed, the Walsh Research Institute, and at the Mensah Medical Clinic.

Much discussion surrounding methylated folate comes from genetic testing and the MTHFR paradigm, which is neither an accurate assessment nor an appropriate guide for true methylation disorders. MTHFR testing is very significant in the realm of autism and in multiple sclerosis, however, in the area of mental health it is strikingly inconsistent and dubious at best.

The proof is in the pudding. People who are truly undermethylated do not do well on methylated folate after two to three months. In fact, to the contrary, many people report worsening of symptoms. In summary, we have history, research, and patient outcomes that support all that we’ve been discussing about the benefits of different forms of folic acid and their appropriate usage as well as challenges.

Please remember everyone is unique so let’s not generalize regarding folic acid supplement use. There is only one you. Even if you are a twin, there is still only one epigenetic you.

Love,
SamiSig

Comments 29

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      Author

      Folinic acid is metabolically active, which means that it does not require enzymatic conversion before it can be utilized. Methylfolate requires the extra step of de-methylation before it can be utilized.

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      Over 40 years of human research and clinical patient outcomes by Dr. Albert Mensah, MD, and William Walsh PhD, about the benefits of different forms of folic acid and their appropriate usage override what you’ve shared. I encourage you to read this post in its entirety, especially the section where synthetic folic acid is specifically addressed. Folic acid is extremely efficient and effective. The notion that folic acid is synthetic and is not effective is incorrect. Anytime you take something out of nature and take it into a lab, it is synthetic. Methylfolate is not a better form. In fact, as this post explains, it is not a good option for both over and undermethylated individuals.

  1. Hello Samantha,

    I am currently being treated by a practicioner who has been trained by Walsh so I will also bring up this question to her.

    I was tested being overmethylated and having (mild) pyroluria. I am on a regimen that includes methylfolate atm and I am not doing any better so far. I am feeling very tense a lot of times and certain supplements seem to make things worse.

    Now that I read your post, I am thinking of changing methylfolate for folic acid, but I am wondering if the dosage has to remain the same.

    Thanks for your answer.

    Best regards,

    Hans

    1. I’m overmethylated and use folinic acid. (I am also treated by Dr. Mensah.)
      I have an MFTHR snp and read about staying away from folic acid.

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        Author

        As shared in this article that Dr. Mensah and I wrote together, folic acid isn’t bad and works quite well for patients that need it. Folinic is more metabolically active so we use it as well, again depending on the patient’s need and chemistry.

  2. Hi, I might want to recommend your recipes for our customers, but are your recipes for people with the biotype “undermethylation” all low-folate?
    One comment: According to Walsh, folate act as a serotonin reuptake promoter, driving serotonin activity even lower, and the benefits from improving methylation (if any) are overwhelmed by weakened serotonin neurotransmission for these persons. We have noticed mild depression from taking only 100-200 mcg of methylfolate for extended periods, so taking several hundreds or even thousands of mcg on a daily basis does not sound good. Still it is prescribed for many depressives with MTHFR. However I see some advantage of helping in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, and other functions, but more is not better.
    https://www.vitacure.me/blogs/news/methylfolate-the-suicidal-nutrient-dont-believe-the-hype

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  3. I am 8 weeks pregnant and an undermethylator. I had been avoiding folate for myself, but understand from Dr. Walsh’s writings that for the first trimester I should be taking methylfolate for the benefit of my developing baby, while continuing Sam-e and L-methionine for myself. I have been taking 400mcg of methylfolate and getting additional through foods. Do I need to revisit this? I have not been able to find a Walsh or Mensah trained practitioner in my area.

  4. So what about a doctor who prescribes high doses of folic acid to women, like myself, when they are pregnant very early on in the pregnancy to prevent birth defects, and then we have a child with severe ADHD, on the autism spectrum, etc. Could this have contributed to that? I have no clue what my methylation status was at the time or is now.

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      Author

      Autism is an epigenetic disorder, meaning that one or both parents contributed mutations that created the condition. It is important to take folic acid in the beginning to protect your child, but not throughout pregnancy if you are undermethylated, as it can have negative effects. I encourage you both to get properly tested. Autism and ADHD are treatable, especially when caught early on.

      1. I am reading up on the these old posts. Can you please describe what specific tests you think the parents should have done?

  5. I am an under methylator (apparently down 40%.) I took folic acid prior to pregnancy and miscarried 3 times. This is one of the problems of taking folic acid for under methylation. Early 2017 I took a Genova test (Optimal Nutrition Evalutaion) which recommended I need 1200mcg of methylfolate. I have been doing this for 8 months now and feel great! Have also increased green leafy veg intake.

  6. Hi Samantha

    I’ve read your articles with great interest since reading Nutrient Power. I am going to be tested by a Walsh practitioner in Ireland (certified from WRI site so legitimate as I know many claim to be but are not) so I’m not looking for individual advice as I will get that in a few weeks once my tests are conducted and results come in. I just wondered generally about your opinion on the following

    Ive heard Walsh say bloods are only part of the picture and in the books many traits are listed for each biotype -specifically referring to depression chapter. I feel I have traits from both under and overmethylated lists so to me tests are the only way to truly tell.

    What I wondered is I had some tests on our national health service in the UK and have low folate at under 2.2 acceptable range seemed to be from 2.4- so lets say in theory I receive my Walsh tests back and and Im found to be an undermethylated person. Does this mean I should NOT attempt to increase my folates to an acceptable level as I know from reading the book undermethylaters should avoid folates.

    Secondly and this is just out of interest how often do you have clients who seem to have traits from many of the biotypes? As I get the impression this is part of the decision making process Ive even heard Mensah and Bowman say in webinars they suspect what tests results will be before they come back and are normally correct. Whereas to me the bloods will reveal the true picture and when they come back the traits become irrelevant scientifically speaking as they are just generalisations vs chemical proof.

    Thanks 🙂

  7. If one wants to maintain b12 level but is a slow COMT+/+ methylator is it bad not to have some folate?
    I’ve seen 50mcg 5MTF as a safe policy for b12 support in doubtful cases.

  8. I’m compound heterozygous MTHFR, and I’ve never noticed problems with folic acid. I’m currently taking a B complex with both folic acid and cyanocobalamin, and it seems to be very helpful. I certainly am not inclined to seek out methylated versions that would be more expensive and not available locally…unless something changes.
    Also, Ben Lynch lost all credibility with me when he basically equated folic acid with carbon monoxide in one of his videos. Comparing something that may not work for certain people to something that’s deadly for everyone was simply outrageous to me.

  9. I am a little confused. Is this article still stating that all forms of folate are bad in undermethylated individuals and if not when and what type is helpful?

  10. What about the research regarding excess folic acid in the bloodstream when the body is unable to convert it all, resulting in less folate getting into cells? Considering the average diet of fortified foods along with supplementation.
    Have there been more recent findings that discredit this?

  11. I take the Best Nest multivitamin which contains methylfolate and methylcobalamin. I am homozygous MTHFR for the C677T gene. This multivitamin helps me. Having the proper dose and formulation is key. This vitamin was created by a board certified neurologist.

  12. Every specialist I have talked to says no folic acid if u have the Mthfr mutation.. but then again some drs believe the mutation is a major concern and others think it’s nothing.. I’ve had 6 miscarriages and because a Dr took my Mthfr mutation seriously I am now with a healthy child and staying away from as much folic acid as possible.. after dealing with everything I’ve been through I think folic for pregnant women with the Mthfr mutation is Kryptonite.. and so do many other specialists.

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      Author

      Testing for MTHFR has no way of determining methylation status because there are SNPs for both over and undermethylation. If you have been properly tested as undermethylated, folic acid is important in the first trimester ONLY to prevent neural tube defects but must be discontinued thereafter. It’s also really important to get tested prior to conception so methylation and other overloads and deficiencies can be balanced first.

  13. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and currently take a weekly dose of methotrexate. To offset side effects of this medication, I also take 1 mg daily of folic acid. I’m wondering if it would be advantageous to instead take folinic acid daily?

  14. Folic Acid is NOT good for you if your body does not process it…please, get a blood test before you continue taking Folic Acid.

  15. This topic is so confusing because you will read in one article that folic acid is SO dangerous and people should ONLY use methylfolate because they could have the gene mutation that doesn’t allow them to metabolize folic acid. Now this articles says the opposite.

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