Medically reviewed by Brooke Boskovich, MS, RD, LDN
Among the key nutrients recommended during preconception, pregnancy and the postnatal period is folate. The term folate is often used interchangeably with folic acid, but while both are a form of vitamin B9, there is an important difference. Here’s what to understand about the difference between folate and folic acid, why it matters for fertility and pregnancy, and which option is best for you.
Folate versus Folic Acid
Like many nutrients, vitamin B9 can be synthesized in slightly different chemical structures. Folic acid, an inexpensive, shelf-stable ingredient that can hang out in stores for a very long time, is the form you’re most likely to see in big-brand vitamins for reasons that often benefit the vitamin company more than the person taking it.
Here’s the thing—this synthetic form of vitamin B9 is easily absorbed, but difficult for your body to use. In order to metabolize folic acid, cells first have to do the extra work of converting it into a usable nutrient. This nutrient conversion process is slow and inefficient, which means that the dose of folic acid you take may not be fully metabolized until the next day, when it’s time to take your vitamin again!
As you might imagine, that’s an issue. Unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream has been associated with a laundry list of health concerns. What’s more, between 25 and 60 percent of the population has a genetic variation that decreases the efficiency of this conversion even further, which means they’re getting well below recommended amounts, if any, even when they dutifully take their vitamins.
The key difference between folate and folic acid is the source. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 and can be found in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and eggs. Unfortunately, many of us simply don’t eat a varied enough diet to ensure we’re getting adequate folate, and that deficit becomes particularly problematic if you’re trying to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy. That’s why the recommendation for men and women of childbearing age who are trying to become parents is to take a prenatal vitamin with enough folate to support healthy fertility, pregnant, and postpartum recovery.
And Beli has you covered.
To ensure that parents-to-be are getting enough folate in the most absorbable form, Beli prenatal vitamins for men and women use the active, methylfolate form of folic acid known as 5-MTHF. As far back as 2011, nutritionists were recognizing prenatal supplements formulated with bioavailable nutrients, including methylfolate, as a better way to ensure adequate amounts when they’re needed most.
So we followed the science, formulating our supplements with only the most bioavailable ingredient forms for fertility and prenatal support. Beli’s bioavailable form of MTHF folate is ready to rock right away—it doesn’t need to be converted by your cells before your body can put it to use. It’s not feasible to test every single women trying for a baby for the MTHFR gene variation, and the active form of folate used in our supplements ensures adequate levels of this necessary nutrient for everyone. The superior B9 absorption from methylated folate makes sure your body has access to the folate you need for fertility and family, helping you get pregnant, stay pregnant, and deliver a healthy baby.
What about the CDC’s Recommendations?
If you’re doing any digging into the folate-versus-folic-acid debate, you’re bound to run into the CDC’s stance that folic acid is the only type of folate to help prevent neural tube defects. At one time, research did indeed support this. But it takes an average of 17 years to see changes in standard of practice guidelines, and research moves much faster than that. Clinical studies find MTHF may be a safer and more effective alternative to folic acid for preventing neural tube defects. Interestingly, researchers have also confirmed folic acid as a risk factor for infant and child allergic diseases, a link that dramatically increases with maternal folic acid intake during pregnancy.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meanwhile, maintains that sufficient folate intake plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy—and there's significant scientific agreement among qualified health experts regarding this matter. Contrary to the belief that folic acid is the sole form of folate that helps in decreasing the incidence of neural tube defects, the FDA takes the position that all biologically active vitamin forms of folate, rather than just synthetic folic acid, are relevant. The big takeaway? The essential factor is maintaining adequate folate levels, achieved through either folic acid or naturally occurring folate.
The Bottom Line
At Beli, we’re committed to science-based recommendations based on the most current peer-reviewed studies. We know you have choices when it comes to prenatal vitamins, and it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out your best option. With Beli, you can trust that we’ve done the research on folate versus folic acid, as well as every other nutrient you need during conception and pregnancy. In addition to safe, effective formulations in the most bioavailable forms, our products are also vegan friendly, gluten and GMO free, made in an FDA-registered facility in the United States, and follow the Good Manufacturing Process Guidelines (CGMP).