Folate vs. Folic Acid

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Folate vs folic acid during pregnancy
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Folate vs. Folic Acid

I’ve gotten several questions lately about folate and folic acid, especially during pregnancy. These two are often used interchangeably and even many doctors will not be able to tell you the difference if you ask.

The body needs this important nutrient, especially during pregnancy and folate is the natural form of this nutrient found in foods. You’ll often hear that folic acid is simply the supplemental form, but there are some key differences. Recent research is supporting the fact that folic acid should be avoided and the natural form should be preferred.

What’s the Difference Between Folate & Folic Acid?

Chris Kresser breaks down the important difference in this article:

Folate is a general term for a group of water soluble b-vitamins, and is also known as B9. Folic acid refers to the oxidized synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification, whereas folate refers to the various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally found in food. (1)

The natural form can enter the main folate metabolic cycle is tetrahydrofolate (THF). (2) Unlike natural folates, which are metabolized to THF in the mucosa of the small intestine, folic acid undergoes initial reduction and methylation in the liver, where conversion to the THF form requires dihydrofolate reductase. The low activity of this enzyme in the human liver, combined with a high intake of folic acid, may result in unnatural levels of unmetabolized folic acid entering the systemic circulation.

Several studies have reported the presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood following the consumption of folic acid supplements or fortified foods. (3) Human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943, and was introduced as a mandatory food fortification in 1998. (4) Food fortification was deemed mandatory due to overwhelming evidence for the protective effect of folic acid supplementation before conception and during early pregnancy on the development of neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns.

I’d recommend reading his full article, but research is supporting the idea that too much synthetic folic acid can increase risk of some types of cancers (source) and it may not even be as effective in preventing neural tube defects.

Folate (the natural form) has some very important functions in the body:

“It is necessary during rapid cell division and growth. In fact, pregnancy is known to actually double the need of dietary folates.

Deficiency has been reported to be the most common vitamin deficiency in the US, and is associated with such conditions as:

  • Anemia
  • Incidence and recurrence of Neural Tube Defects (serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain which arise during the early development of the embryo, most common being spina bifida)
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Elevated Homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke and many other health conditions

Potential Causes of a Folate Deficiency

  • Inadequate dietary intake
  • Increased requirement, as in pregnancy and lactation
  • Malabsorption
  • Altered hepatic (liver) metabolism
  • Increased elimination of folate” (source)

How to Get Enough

Unfortunately, even high quality prenatal vitamins often contain folic acid instead of the natural folate-forms. In the past, I’ve had to create my own supplement regimen for pregnancy to find the natural forms of all the needed nutrients (though there is now a high quality prenatal that contains the natural methylated form)

Folate is found naturally in foods like liver and spinach. It is also possible to find a natural supplemental form that can be taken in place of folic acid.

Though the recommendation for pregnancy is 400-600mcg of folate/folic acid, this is the minimal amount needed to prevent birth defects. When using folate instead of folic acid (thus removing the added risks to mom with the synthetic form), it is often advisable to take more than the minimum. As always, check with a doctor or midwife before taking or changing anything, especially during pregnancy, but do your research on this one!

What I do: Before and during pregnancy, I take 800-1200 mcg of folate. I have used Pure Encapsulations Folate (slightly higher quality) and Solgar Folate (less expensive) with good results. The one downside is that it isn’t as easily absorbed, so it is often necessary to take more and to get it from real food sources. I also eat liver at least once a week during pregnancy. UPDATE: I now take this prenatal instead which contains adequate levels.

Additional Reading:
-Designs for Health Article on Folate
Chris Kresser on Folate vs. Folic Acid
Possible link between synthetic form and cancer

Do you take folic acid or folate during pregnancy? How do you make sure to get enough? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


126 responses to “Folate vs. Folic Acid”

  1. Tammy Avatar

    The most important time to take prenatal vitamins with folic acid/folate is BEFORE you become pregnant Or as soon as you find out you are. The neural tube closes very early in pregnancy , often before you first find out you are pregnant. When there is an interruption in the closing process, certain birth defects can possibly occur. Birth control pills have been shown to make a woman deficient in folic acid, so just be aware of this and talk with your doctor. Often, ntd’s are considered to have a multifactoral cause, but taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid has shown to help decrease this risk. It is recommended to take 800 to 1000mgs a day if you have had a previous child with a neural tube defect. Again, talk with your healthcare provider whomever they may be first. This subject is near and dear to my heart and I promotefolic acid/ folate when ever I get an opportunity.
    Peace and best wishes to you all

  2. Miranda Avatar

    If you have either a1298c or c677t (or both as compound heterozygous) variants in the MTHFR gene, folic acid is a big NO-NO. You’ll want to take L-methylfolate instead. Some people need to build a tolerance for it so it’s recommended to start low & slow. Cut the pill down as much as you can and start by taking an eighth or a fourth once every 3 days and slowly build up your tolerance. Your doctor can order a simple blood test for these 2 variantsto find out if you have them. If you want a full genetic panel, the 23andme test can be ordered online & now costs $199. A good source of info on MTHFR can be found at with Dr. Ben Lynch. I hope y’all have healthy healing.

  3. Rachel Avatar

    Do you know anything about Zahler prenatals? They contain folate instead of folic acid but i can’t find much about them online. Thanks!

  4. Jenae Hagel Avatar
    Jenae Hagel

    Mega foods vitamins are great and are food only non sythetic and are folate not folic acid. They are in the daily vitamins and women vitamins and baby and me vitamins. Most of it is herbal but you can get one that is not herbal.

    1. John Avatar

      Megafood use some of chemical form of folate to begin with, goes without saying that it’s impossible to extract 400 mcg of folate from 40 mg of broccoli. You would have to fit over 650 (!) grams of broccoli in one pill to reach 400 mcg of folate.

  5. Nikki Avatar

    I noticed they are methylfolate and I got extremely irritatable on it. I am homozygous C677T for MTHFR. What do you suggest to take if you can’t tolerate methylfolate?

    1. Miranda Avatar

      Go low & slow with methylfolate. Cut the pill down & start with only an eighth of it. Slowly increase the amount & remember, you dont need to take it every day to start. It will be a lot easier to build up tolerance that way.

  6. Amy Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama

    This is great info! Quick question- I am TTC and eat a fairly healthy diet already. I found my regular prenatals were making me break out so I switched to some Thorne 5-MTHF that a friend recommended. She had some left over of the 5 mg but is that too much? Should I switch to the 1 mg? Would 5 mg be doing any harm?

    Thanks for any help! Very much appreciated

  7. Stephanie Avatar

    Should i take a folate supplement and a prenatal vitamin at the same time? Or just one or the other? I’m going to take MegaFood Prenatal.

  8. Katy Avatar

    There are several natural prenatals that have folate vs. folic acid. I am not pregnant right now, but we’re trying. I’ve been taking prenatals since we started trying, and I’ve had to change multiple times due to the inclusion of soy. I was told by one sales rep for a certain brand sold at whole foods, that the soy is necessary and the way it’s processed (fermented) shouldn’t cause me any reactions (I can’t have soy). Well it did affect me big time, but I wanted to keep taking the prenatals I case I did get pregnant. Anyway– I finally did find one with no soy and 800mcg of folate. Baby & me, by megafood. So far I’m happy with it! Anyone else use this?

  9. Nicole Avatar


    I know I’m two years late, but just wanted to ask if it is okay to start taking a Folate supplement even if you are not at present trying to get pregnant, but trying to get into the habit of eating a fertility diet as part of a healthy lifestyle.

  10. Priti Avatar

    Hi all.
    Okay so I’m really confused and I’m not technical with this so if anyone responds please help with replying softly and use of laymans terms. I’m nearly 4 weeks pregnant and I’ve stopped taking folate because I felt it gave me anxiety. I’ve not taken any folic acid because I thought it won’t doing anything with it being synthetic and non useable by the body. What shall I do?!?

  11. Kristyn Avatar

    Hey wellness mama, great article. I understand the difference now between the 2 forms however wondering if there is a safe amount limit on folate. Since it comes from natural sources and isn’t as easily absorbed we should be able to eat a lot of folate & still be safe right? I take blood builder which has folate from broccoli so I’m assuming that’s OK. Also give the kids juice plus which has folate from food sources…. Any thoughts? Advice? Thanku

  12. kristen Avatar

    Those of you with MTHFR talk to your doctor’s about NEEVO-DHA. I had a pharmacist do some research and this prenatal was made specifically for us. The only probLem is the price you might be looking to pay after insurance covers part. I’m currently trying to find a alternative to the NEEVO

  13. Shannon Avatar

    Hello! I know I’m late to the game but need some help. I just recently (within the last 5 weeks or so found out that I am mthfr positive for 2 kinds of a1298c. I have been on 2 supplements (methyl protect and 5-mthfr es) but I know I need a pre natal as well as I just found out yesterday that I’m pregnant (with my second child). I don’t know if taking additional folate is bad or ok since I’m already taking the 2 supplements). I am having the hardest time trying to find something. I looked into new chapters but they use folic acid. I’m considering nutrigold’s whole food prenatal gold and they use folate. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Kristen Avatar

      Hi Shannon, I have the same question!
      Just found out I am heterozygous for the MTHFR C677T and A1298C variants. Had a recent miscarraige and now having inflammation issues and headaches. I have been taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid this entire time! The research I have found states that taking folic acid with the MTHFR gene mutation can plug up the receptor cites and the body is prevented from being able to use the folate they receive from natural food. My doctor also just put me on 5-MTHF (Thorne brand), but if I am still taking the folic acid in the prenatal vitamin, wouldn’t that counteract my attempts at getting methyl folate in the 5-MTHF. Should I find a prenatal vitamin without folic acid? Any suggestions Wellness Mama?

      1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

        I have the C677T variation and avoid anything with folic acid like the plague but I’d try to find a naturopathic doc that understands gene mutations to help with your specific case

        1. Danielle Avatar

          Hi Katie. I love your website and find it extremely helpful! I just found out i also have one copy of the c677t variation. luckily i had switched from rainbow lite, which are great if you dont have mthfr, to vitamin code raw prenatals which suppposedly have folate and also active b12 (going to confirm this with the company). i was on rainbow lite for so long so i am praying now that i switched a few months ago all that folic acid is out of my system by now, also took birth control for 15 years…who would’ve known this would all be such an issue. do you have any other recommendations for things to cut out or add to my diet? also in the process of switching body/face products to cut out chemicals (still trying to find a good non aluminum deoderant too). i was told by someone on a blog that the c677t is a more “severe” mutation than the other one even tho i only have one copy. so needless to say i’ve been stressed since finding out 3 days ago…

          1. Wellness Mama Avatar

            Sounds like you are doing all the right things. I also make sure to eat a lot of greens and focus on a nutrient rich diet to get the most from that as well.

      2. Jennifer Avatar

        Garden of Life “My Kind Organics” prenatals contain 800mcg folate (from food sources, no folic acid) and are a good brand. I take them. I get them at Whole Foods.

  14. Nikki Avatar

    I am taking the prenatal vitamin & mineral supplements, TheraNatal Complete. Can I still take the fermented cod liver oil along with it?

  15. Amber Avatar

    I’m taking 1mg daily Thorne 5-MTHF. I read that it’s great to take even if you don’t have the gene issue.
    I DONT want to take Folic Acid!
    I’m trying to conceive and my OBGYN just told me to take 5mg folic acid daily until 3 months pregnant. I’m trying to find some kind of conversion. Should I take more than 1mg of 5-MTHF?
    If it’s more biologically active than folic acid I should be good with that dose?
    Sorry, just can’t seem to find much info. Want to be sure I’m doing the right thing.

  16. Mike Avatar

    Folic acid is important for Histapenia (only in my opinion). Methylfolate (glucosamine, not calcium, salt preferred) is for MTHFR C677T and A1298C gene mutations and also for drugs that delete folate such as Phenytoin.

    1. Mike Avatar

      Additionally methylfolate is also quite helpful allergies and probably for asthma.
      For C667T start with a small dose and gradually, slowly increase. Limited doses of GABA amino acid supplements can offset the initial side effect for homozygous people and for people with severe allergies.

        1. Shanna Avatar

          Thanks Mike! I’m hetero for C667T and researching different prenatals. One I came across listed “Folate (as folic acid from culture media)” – what on earth does that mean? Is it safe since it is formed naturally, or should I avoid this one all together? My fertility nurse told me she spoke with the rep for their prenatals and they told her they use folic acid because it is too expensive to formulate the folate without the patent…something like that. Crazy that they only give IVF patients prenatals with folic acid….

  17. Lyndsey Avatar

    I’m 24 years old, currently 17 weeks pregnant and I don’t feel like I’m taking enough supplements for my first pregnancy. I have a hard time taking vitamins becaus I end up puking afterwards. Currently I’m taking Nutrition Now Prenatal Gummy Vitamins and that’s it. I Got it from Kroger in the natural section. I asked my doc it that was okay and she said it was fine…well, I just realized that it doesn’t contain iron, so I’m freaking out that I’m not consuming enough iron for the baby. I’ve been trying to live a holistic lifestyle by eating organic and no processed food, though there’re times that I do cave and have some chick fil-a fries, or ice cream. I haven’t gained any weight during my pregnancy, which kinda scares me, though, my nurse said its normal. I try to eat healthy and workout everyday, and I’m constantly told to eat a lot of food, but I cant. I also don’t think I eat enough protein. I REALLY would love to have some help because I want to be healthy for my baby and I want my baby to be healthy. Any suggestions of a supplement that I could really benefit from? Also, is it too late to take the supplements at 17 weeks. Again, this is my first pregnancy. Thank you!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      If you are already eating a healthy real food diet, don’t freak out. You are probably getting a good amount of nutrients. If you take a once a day prenatal, it may be too strong for you to take all at once. My favorite is taken thrice a day, and is very gentle on the tummy even if you take it all at once:
      Just make sure you are getting tons of healthy fats and protein for the little one’s growing brain. Here is a good article to give you ideas:
      Just don’t start beating yourself up! Eating a good diet is the first and best thing you can do, and you are obviously very conscientious. You are already a great mom!

      1. Krista Avatar


        I was also looking at the New Chapter prenatal and saw that it says it has Folate (as folic acid in culture media). I can’t find any info on what that means exactly. I suspect I may have the MTHFR mutation but haven’t been tested yet; do you think that prenatal is safe or should I also add additional folate or L-MTHF?


  18. melydia Avatar

    are the two brands of folate that you recommend from whole food sources? I couldn’t find that information on amazon.

  19. Millie Avatar

    I am 5 weeks pregnant and just realized that my prenatal contains folic acid. I ordered a new one that contains folate which should arrive tomorrow.. Should I be worried? I wish I had realized this sooner as I have miscarried once before. I’m not sure if my body converts folic acid or not…

  20. brooke Avatar

    I finally got some Solgar Folate (as metafolin) 400mcg for now. I’m not trying to conceive but surprises happen so I want my body to be prepared. When we are ready to conceive I plan to increase the dose and add some other supps. I looked into b complex vitamins before deciding on just folate and I feel like I’m getting enough of those other vitamins through diet. I have seen first hand what too much b12 does to a person (being in healthcare field) and its scary stuff!!

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