Folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) supplements can increase the chances of developing some types of cancer. However, acquired as part of a healthy, wholesome diet from sources like broccoli or spinach, folate can have many benefits, especially during pregnancy. It can: aid red blood cell production, help the baby’s brain develop, help prevent birth defects.
Folate occurs naturally in plant foods. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and is widely used in supplements. The body is able to regulate the absorption of folate, thereby nullifying the risk of overdose. However, safety is often sacrificed for convenience; an excessive intake of folic acid supplements causes health hazards.
Research shows that the long-term or excessive use of folic acid supplements may be associated with increased risks of prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.
The optimal way for the body to acquire folate is through consuming soybeans, spinach and others plant foods. As the body is able to regulate the conversion and absorption of folate from these sources, it provides a safer and superior effect.
https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000653 (Cancer risk with folic acid supplements)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132377/ (Folate and Its Impact on Cancer Risk)
What is folate?
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, water-soluble and naturally found in many foods. It is also added to foods and sold as a supplement in the form of folic acid; this form is actually better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively. Folate helps to form DNA and RNA and is involved in protein metabolism.
It plays a key role in breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that can exert harmful effects in the body if it is present in high amounts. Folate is also needed to produce healthy red blood cells and is critical during periods of rapid growth, such as during pregnancy and fetal development.
Folate vs. folic acid
Folate refers to the many forms of vitamin B-9. These include folic acid, dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), and more. The body uses B vitamins to create new cells. Folate from natural sources is unlikely to cause side effects.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. Food manufacturers add it to many products because it does not occur naturally. Bread, pasta, rice, and breakfast cereals tend to contain added folic acid. Side effects are highly uncommon but may include: bloating, nausea and appetite loss.
Folate and folic acid have very similar effects. Both help the body create new cells, such as red blood cells.
What foods provide folate?
Folate is naturally present in many foods, including vegetables (especially asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens), fruits and fruit juices (especially oranges and orange juice), beef liver, nuts (such as walnuts), and beans and peas (such as kidney beans and black-eyed peas).
You also get folate by eating foods fortified with folic acid. Folic acid is a form of folate that can be added to foods during the manufacturing process. Foods that are fortified with folic acid include: enriched breads, flours, pastas, rice, and cornmeal; fortified corn masa flour (used to make corn tortillas and tamales, for example); and certain fortified breakfast cereals. Folic acid is also found in certain dietary supplements.
Am I getting enough folate/folic acid?
For most people, using the %DV can help them choose foods to get enough folate in their diet. For individuals who could become pregnant, look for the amount of folic acid in mcg listed in the parentheses on the label so you know how much you are consuming from fortified foods and dietary supplements. If a product’s label lists %DV for folate but does not show mcg of folic acid in parentheses that means that folic acid has not been added to the product.
5% DV or less of folate per serving means the product is low in folate.
20% DV or more of folate per serving means the product is high in folate.
Don’t forget to include foods that have folate, such as those listed above, in your healthy eating plan. To determine if a food has added folic acid, look for “folic acid” in parentheses on the label. Talk to your healthcare provider about which nutrients you should track for overall health.