Folate vs Folic Acid For Pregnancy: Which is Better?

“Make sure you have enough folic acid for pregnancy.” This is pretty standard advice these days with doctors recommending all women of child bearing age to get enough folic acid in their diet since it’s important even before conception. For any woman trying to get pregnant, the thought of neural tube defects (NTD) is enough motivation to be super diligent about taking prenatal supplements with plenty of folic acid.



Women who take supplemental folic acid increase their breast cancer risk by 20-30%, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers collected data on women’s folic acid intake from multivitamins over a 10-year period – they found that the women who took multivitamins containing folic acid were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those that did not.

A study published earlier this year found a 163% increased risk of prostate cancer in men taking folic acid supplements.

A new meta-analysis of folic acid supplementation and colorectal cancer risk found that those who took folic acid for more than three years increased their risk of having a colorectal adenoma by 35%.4 In the U.S., Canada, and most recently Chile, colorectal cancer rates have climbed since the advent of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

Another new study, has found that folic acid supplementation by pregnant women increases the risk of childhood asthma by 26% 5, and yet another study linked folic acid supplementation during pregnancy to increased incidence of respiratory tract infections in infants, especially those resulting in hospitalization.

This past month in Norway, where there is no fortification of flour with folic acid, researchers conducting a six-year study on the homocysteine-lowering effects of B vitamins in patients with heart disease made an unexpected finding: the patients whose supplement included folic acid had a greater risk of cancer incidence and cancer mortality. These patients were 43% more likely to die from cancer.

Most alarming was another study that compared women who took folic acid during their pregnancy to those that did not. Thirty years later those women who were given a hefty dose of folic acid during pregnancy were twice as likely to die from breast cancer. Shocking info huh!


Folic acid and folate are terms used interchangeably as though they are the same. They are not. AND not knowing the difference between folate and folic acid can harm you.

Folate is the naturally-occurring form of the vitamin. It’s found in foods like broccoli, spinach, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Folate is a member of the B vitamin family and is found naturally in foods, especially green vegetables. Folate is involved with DNA synthesis and DNA methylation, which essentially turns genes on and off. Because of these crucial functions, folate plays important roles in fetal development and nerve tissue health as well as cancer initiation and progression

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin that is used in most supplements and in fortified foods. (Think “enriched.”)

Now, if you’re familiar with my ideas on health and eating healthy you can probably guess where this is headed, right? My journey towards health has been about getting back to basics… back to nature. That’s why I think folate is more important and safer than folic acid for pregnancy.



Many processed foods like cereals are fortified with folic acid. This mandatory food fortification came about in 1998 with the overwhelming evidence that folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy helped protect newborns for neural tube defects.

But here’s the thing: Several studies have reported the presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood following the consumption of folic acid supplements or fortified foods. In fact, human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until it was chemically synthesized in the 1940?s.

Folate is essential for proper folding of the neural tube and prevention of neural tube defects during early pregnancy. Based on numerous studies, adequate folate during the periconceptual period is thought to reduce the risk of NTDs in babies by about 50-60%. In addition to the increased risk of later life breast cancer in women, folic acid supplementation during pregnancy is associated with respiratory tract infections, asthma, and cardiac birth defects in children.

Folic acid is not folate and does not deliver the cornucopia of nutrients that folate-rich foods do. All women must be aware that they may be endangering their health or the health of their unborn children if they choose to use conventional prenatal multivitamins containing synthetic folic acid rather than eating a healthful diet rich in natural folate. Women who take folic acid supplements as a substitute for good nutrition fail to provide their unborn children with the additional beneficial nutrients in folate-containing foods. Maternal nutrition is an important determinant of childhood health — low maternal vegetable intake is associated with increased risk of childhood brain tumors and leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

Folate is important to your health because it:
  •     Aids the complete development of red blood cells
  •     Supports the nervous system
  •     Prevents neural tube defects in newborns

So instead of folic acid for pregnancy, look for folate… the honest-to-goodness natural vitamins found in real food. Once again, nature trumps man. Way to go nature!

Vegetables and Fruits


The recommendation of the U.S. FDA and Institute of Medicine for folate for healthy adults is 400 mcg/day, and 600 mcg/day for pregnant women.

Rich sources of food folate

folate recommendation



Avoid products that say “folic acid” on the label. Most health food stores will have quality brands of prenatal and multi-vitamins that have folate instead of folic acid. If choosing to supplements look for organic to avoid GMOs. If you take a multi-vitamin make sure to check the label because most multi-vitamins contain folic acid and not folate.


Dr. Fuhrman’s Gentle Prenatal

gental care

Dr. Fuhrman’s Gentle Prenatal stands out from other prenatal vitamins. Designed with the same premium ingredients as his Gentle Care, Dr. Fuhrman’s Gentle Prenatal is tailored with the specific needs of pregnant and childbearing age women in mind.

• 25 mg ferronyl iron

Women’s iron needs approximately double during pregnancy, because of increased blood volume and the iron needs of the developing fetus.12 Iron supplementation is advisable not only for pregnant women, but for those in childbearing years up through menopause. Gentle Prenatal uses the most bioavailable, nontoxic, and gentle form of supplemental iron available.

• 1000 IU Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important supplement for pregnant women – during the third trimester, calcium demands increase and vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and subsequently fetal bone growth.  Gentle Prenatal contains adequate vitamin D – more than most other prenatal vitamins.

• Convenient vegan capsules can be easily opened to mix the powder with food or drink making it easier to tolerate and to avoid stomach upset.

Dr. Fuhrman’s Gentle Prenatal

Important for pregnant women and those in

childbearing years, breastfeeding, or premenopausal.


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