The name for this vitamin and the word foliage both come from the same latin word “folium”, which means leaf, immediately giving us a hint as to what foods this nutrient might be found in: leafy greens!
Folic acid is the synthetic lab-concocted version of folate that is used in supplements and fortified foods. Folate is the original, natural version of folic acid: the one found naturally occurring in food. The two are chemically different from one another in ways that science does not yet fully understand! (i.e. we are being experimented on, as usual)
Good sources of folate include asparagus, avocados (I’ll never become deficient! haha!) beans, oranges, beetroot, cashews, legumes, kiwifruit, kelp, almonds, nutritional yeats, sprouted lentils, quinoa, sunflower seeds, spinach, mung bean sprouts. It’s also added artificially to many, many foods, such as breakfast cereals, bread, flour, pasta, rice and corn meal.
To absorb folate, the body needs adequate vitamin C and iron (is these three work together as a team!). This is called synergism. Another word you might hear sometimes is “co-factors”. In this instance, the vitamin C and the iron are co-factors for folate.
The folate found in natural whole foods is safe and very healthy for you. It protects us from cancer, depression and osteoarthritis. It helps in the production of healthy sperm, supports fertility for both men and women, and reduces the likelihood of neural tube defects in babies.
But when we consume artificial folate i.e. folic acid, whether from supplements or fortified foods, we put ourselves at risk of breast, prostate, colorectal and other types of cancer and asthma, especially if our intake is greater than 1000 mcg per day, which can easily happen if we are taking supplements and eating fortified foods without knowing it!
The body can’t convert all that supplemental folic acid into folate and the unconverted folic acid stays circulating in the blood. Not only does this increase our cancer risk, it can provoke seizures in people who take anticonvulsant medications, and it can mask a B12 deficiency.
Something that isn’t spoken about much in nutrition (and of which I am very passionate about!), is all the things that influence nutrient status aside from the content of a nutrient in a specific food. With folate, you need less from your food if you aren’t doing the following things:
*using oral contraceptives
*using non-steroidal pain-killers (e.g. ibuprofen)
These things either reduce absorption, interfere with folate metabolism, or drain your folate from your body! I wouldn’t need as much folate in my diet as the average person, for example, because none of these things feature in my life except for the very occasional pain-killer.
So what factors increase our folate need (besides the above list)?
Diarrhoea, ageing, anaemia, B12 deficiency, blood loss, burns, coeliac disease, gastric resection, Hodgkin’s disease, lung cancer, mental illness, pregnancy, lactation and being chemically sensitive (e.g. kids who go nutty after consuming ‘colours and numbers’).
And what is folate deficiency associated with?
Anaemia, apathy, anorexia (loss of appetite), cervical dysplasia, constipation, diarrhoea, cracks on the lips, shortness of breath, fatigue, forgetfulness, a fat and shiny tongue or a red tongue, headaches, hostility (hmmmm…. does that make you wonder about a few people you know?!), palpitations, loss of libido, insomnia, short-sightedness, paranoia, restless legs, skin problems, weakness, weight loss, and irritability.