Why I Don’t Recommend Folic Acid Supplementation For Pregnancy

This post was written by Hanro – A guest blogger.

As you may know, folic acid supplementation is regularly recommended to childbearing women. This is to prevent birth defects; notably neural tube defects.

Your body takes folic acid and converts it into usable folate. The folate helps to produce and support new cells. Hence the importance during pregnancy.

Sounds good, right? What can go wrong? So why don’t I recommend folic acid supplements for prenatal women? Let’s chat about that.

Folic Acid vs. Folate. Is There a Difference?

Folate is a natural water-soluble vitamin found in nature. On the other hand, folic acid is the synthetic version that is artificially produced in a laboratory.

Folic acid isn’t naturally found in the environment since it is man-made. Your body can’t use the folic acid directly and has to convert it to the usable safe form, namely folate.

Supplement companies love folic acid! It’s cheaper and more stable in pill form compared to folate.

Folic acid supplements became popular when scientists started experimenting the effects on rats. They found that rats have a liver enzyme which is able to convert folic acid into folate.

folic acid

They found that the human liver has the same enzyme which is able to convert folic acid into folate. BUT, the bad news is that the human enzyme is not as efficient as the rat enzyme. In fact, the enzyme is 50 times less active in humans than in rats (1).

Doctors and scientists thought this is why folic acid could be harmful to humans. Our body is too slow at converting the bad folic acid into the good folate. Thus we have this artificial, unnatural, synthetic substance circulating through our system.

This, in turn, can wreak havoc on our health. Studies have shown that although folic acid has some benefits, it is not worth the risks.

Adverse Effects Of Folic Acid

folic acid

Several studies have found a correlation between folic acid and chronic diseases. Isolated folic acid was found to have an increased risk of the following diseases:

  • Cancer (2, 3)
  • Wheeze and lower respiratory infections in babies up to 18 months (4)  
  • Childhood asthma (5)
  • Autism (6)
  • Birth defects (7)

Folate, however, which can be found in natural whole foods, has the opposite effect of synthetic folic acid. Folate reduces the risk of cancer where folic acid increases it (8).

A Healthier Alternative To Meet Mom’s Daily Folate Needs

folic acid

The daily recommended folate dosage for pregnant women is recommended at 600ug (8). Ok, that doesn’t really help you, so let’s make it easier.

The word folate is derived from foliage. And as you know foliage means plant leaves. Thus, our primary folate source ought to be leafy greens.

Besides leafy greens, there are also other great natural sources of folate. These include beans, legumes, other green vegetables and some fruits.

Food Source (1 cup): Micrograms of Folate: % of Daily Value:
Lentils 358 60
Pinto Beans 294 49
Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas) 282 47
Spinach 263 44
Asparagus 262 44
Black Beans 256 43
Navy Beans 254 42
Kidney Beans 229 38
Collard Greens 177 30
Turnip Greens 170 28
Broccoli 169 28
Mustard Greens 103 17
Green Peas 101 17
Papaya 96 16
Avocado 90 15

 

Not only are beans and leafy greens high in folate, but rich in other nutrients soon-to-be moms need. These include iron, calcium, omega-3 and fibre.

Bean bonus! They are also rich in all essential amino acids aka protein. Some of the longest living and healthiest populations consumed beans (9).

If beans give you flatulence, try draining and rinsing canned beans before consumption. If they still cause you discomfort, start with lentils, especially red lentils. They are not too hard on the digestive tract. Incorporate beans gradually into your diet. Unfortunately, jelly beans don’t count.

How Do I Know If I’m Getting Enough Folate?

If you are uncertain that you’re meeting your daily needs, I highly recommend using a free food diary tool like Cronometer. It can be customized for your age, height, weight and pregnancy status.

Here’s an example of including only two cups of beans and greens in your daily meals. (This is the nutrient requirements for a 30-year-old pregnant woman with a height of 170 cm and weight of 62 kilograms)

As you can see these foods pack a serious nutritional punch. No side effects besides exuberant health!

Green smoothies are another neat trick you can use. By adding greens to a fruit smoothie, you can mask the bitterness. Great for sneaking in veggies for kids and husbands.

smoothies

For winter times, cold smoothies might not satisfy you. Try making a hearty vegetable soup with various beans and green leafy vegetables.

I don’t recommend getting your daily folate from fortified foods. These are highly processed with unhealthy substances like sugar, preservatives, and additives.

folic-acid folic-acid

Dad Is Not Off The Hook From Eating His Vegetables

Research has found that men with high folate intake have a lower incidence of aneuploid sperm. The lower the better because stated simply, aneuploid sperm (aneuploidy) is associated with birth defects such as Down syndrome (10). So make sure the family joins you in your uptake of greens and beans.

pregnancy

Summary

In summary, I support getting enough folate before, during and after pregnancy. As well as getting it from a natural source.

As you can see I’m not a big fan of laboratories trying their best to copy mother nature. It is a reductionist approach trying to solve an intricate problem.

To this day, we are still discovering new nutrients in whole natural foods. So how can scientists copy a recipe if they don’t have access to all the ingredients? And mothers across the world may carry the unfortunate consequences of this experiment.

We shouldn’t try to out-supplement a bad diet. But rather use supplements as a last resort. They shouldn’t be the norm.  

What is your favourite way to sneak in extra vegetables? Let me know in the comments below!

Bio

Hanro is one of the top nutritionists in South Africa. He helps women who struggle to lose weight transform their bodies into  the stunning figures they’ve always wanted. This way they have fewer worries and can focus on the things that matter. Be it spending time with family, reading, advancing their career or pursue passionate hobbies like crafts. To learn more you can head to his website: Opposed Nutrition. You can also follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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