I just met up with the lovely Jeremy Hawkey behind Nature’s Own a few weeks ago, and since, I’ve been living on his vitamins. He’s been teaching me all the best possible solutions to our nutritional needs. ‘Best’ to him, means products that work as nature does. Obviously, chemical vitamins and minerals act as a stimulus for change within the body and they do sell these, but they believe that the true role of chemicals in the body is to help heeling and wellbeing and that sounds good to me. I’ve been taking their immune support and multivitamins this winter and they’re going down well. This piece is about methylfolate which I keep hearing about, but didn’t really understand. I hope this piece explains it a little better than I could!

Methylfolate – a better alternative to folic acid?

Folic acid, sometimes called B9, is found in most multivitamins. The government recommends taking 400 mcg of folic acid during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects and this policy has been effective in reducing these conditions. As a result, there has recently been talk of fortifying some foods like bread with folic acid to extend protection to all pregnant Mums as only 1/3 take the recommended dose of folic acid whilst pregnant. However, there is some controversy with folic acid and high levels of un-metabolised folic acid have been found in certain cancers; it has not been established that folic acid increases the risk of cancer but there is concern about the safety of chronic intakes of high levels of folic acid from dietary supplements. Human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943.

So what is folic acid and is its presence in supplements and/or foods a good idea for the rest of us (ie if we are not pregnant) or should we be looking for supplements that contain the active form ie methylfolate?

Folate, derived from the term foliage, is the umbrella term for a number of different substances including folic acid. It is one of the water soluble B complex vitamins and is necessary for many pathways including proper brain and nerve function. It is used in certain reactions called ‘methylation’ reactions which occur over a billion times per second in the body!

An adequate intake of folate from food is essential for the prevention of many disorders such as anaemia, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and many other degenerative diseases. Some of the best natural sources of folate are in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. However in a large percentage of the population, folate intake from food is insufficient for good health because people, and especially children, don’t eat enough greens.

The problem with folic acid, found in most multivitamin supplements, is it is not the ‘active’ form of folate and has to undergo a number of steps to be converted to the active form, which is called methylfolate. If this pathway is working correctly folic acid is converted to methylfolate by our bodies. But often, due to genetic mutations, this pathway doesn’t run well and un-metabolised folic acid, which is not necessarily beneficial, remains in the body.

Estimates vary, depending on the population being studied, but it is likely that over 50% of people have an enzyme deficiency that reduces the conversion of folic acid to methylfolate – the active form. In these people, efficiency may be reduced by between 30 – 70%. So these individuals have an inability to use folic acid properly. This is associated with various conditions including ADHD, depression and other mental health and behaviour disorders.

Another problem can occur with the folate receptors. In order for folate to be converted to the active form it must first attach to folate receptors. In some people these receptors do not work well, for example a large proportion of children with autism have been found to have poorly functioning folate receptors and so a reduced ability to produce the active methylfolate form.

The increased understanding of how the body uses folate is being seen as a missing piece in the puzzle of chronic disease and supplementing with the active form, methylfolate, rather than folic acid, may soon become the preferred norm.

Amanda Williams is Managing Director of Cytoplan, the sister company of Nature’s Own (www.natures-own.co.uk). Amanda has 40 years of experience within the field of nutrition, having worked in health and nutrition-related disciplines for most of her professional life.

Nature’s Own nutrients are in the same form as those in food – Wholefood and Food State, which are the most bio-effective supplements available.  If you have any questions or would like more information about this article, please email amanda@natures-own.co.uk. Nature’s Own also offers a free health questionnaire service that provides tailored nutritional advice. The questionnaire is confidential and our nutritionist will respond directly to you. http://www.natures-own.co.uk/Health-Questionnaire/