Difference between Folate and Folic Acid

By: | Updated: Jan-16, 2018

Since folate and folic acid are the most common forms of vitamin B9, they are frequently mixed up even by members of the healthcare system. However, they are far from being interchangeable. This article clears up the confusion between the two.

Summary Table

FolateFolic Acid
Natural form of vitamin B9Synthetic form of vitamin B9
Found in natural food items including asparagus, avocado, liver, beets, beans, squash, and dark leafy vegetablesFound in supplements and fortified food items such as cereals and flour
Easily converted into 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), the active form of vitamin B9Not easily converted into 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF), the active form of vitamin B9
Conversion into 5-MTHF is facilitated by the digestive systemConversion into 5-MTHF is facilitated by the digestive system, the liver, and other tissues in the body
Excess amounts can be naturally excreted by the body through urinationExcess amounts cannot be naturally excreted by the body, possibly leading to blood accumulation
Over-consumption is generally safeOver-consumption may lead to medical conditions
Capable of crossing the placenta to the fetusNot capable of crossing the placenta to the fetus
More expensiveCheaper

Definitions

Rich sources of folate
Rich sources of folate

Folate, popularly known as vitamin B9, is a nutrient naturally found in a wide array of food items including asparagus, avocado, beets, liver, and dark leafy vegetables. It plays a critical role in promoting the body’s growth and development, making it an essential vitamin for adults and children.

Folic acid supplement
Folic acid supplement

Folic acid, on the other hand, is a water-soluble vitamin that aids the body in breaking down complex carbohydrates and facilitating neural tube development. A popular form of vitamin B9, folic acid is commonly found in fortified food items and synthetic supplements.

Folate vs Folic Acid

Despite playing similar roles in the body, there is a big difference between folate and folic acid.

Forms

Vitamin B9 exists in two forms: natural and synthetic. Folate, which is the naturally-occurring form, is essential in maintaining bodily functions. Folic acid, by contrast, is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 and is not biologically found in the body.

Sources

Folate is a nutrient found in natural food items including asparagus, avocado, beets, liver, beans, squash, and dark leafy vegetables. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic vitamin found in supplements and fortified food items such as cereals and flour.

Conversion

Since folate is a naturally-occurring essential vitamin, the digestive system can easily convert it into 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF), the active form of vitamin B9. The conversion takes place even before folate enters the bloodstream.

To compare, folic acid converts into 5-MTHF at a slower pace. Unlike folate, the digestive system is not fully capable of converting most folic acid that enters the body, which in turn necessitates the liver and the other tissues to aid in conversion.

Excretion

Folate, in excessive amounts, can be naturally excreted by the body through urination. Folic acid, by contrast, is not discharged the natural way since it is a synthetic chemical and is consequently slower to metabolize. Excess folic acid can cause build-up, leading to folic acid accumulation in the blood.

Health Risks

The over-consumption of folate is generally safe, while excess folic acid is strongly linked to medical conditions. Once unmetabolized folic acid proliferates in the bloodstream, it can weaken the efficiency of other medications and mask signs of vitamin B12 deficiency. Similarly, excess folic acid can suppress proper immune function.

Roles in Pregnancy

Lastly, unlike folate, folic acid is not capable of crossing the placenta to the fetus. However, folic acid is still highly recommended for pregnant women since it is more cost-efficient and easier to consume.

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