Folate Vs Folic Acid: What Your Doctor Will NOT Tell You About Folic Acid

I want to share with you today an example of the dangers of the isolated thinking that is so common today. I’m talking about the prevalent belief that we can compensate for our bad eating and living habits by popping a pill or a supplement to make all problems disappear.

The problem with this approach is that it just doesn’t work.

As I learn more and more about various aspects of human health and nutrition, I come across more and more examples of the potential dangers that this fragmented thinking can cause.

I want to illustrate it with the folate vs folic acid debate.

(Plus, I want to give you one more reason to keep drinking green smoothies!)

What is Folic Acid?

Every woman in child-bearing age knows about folic acid.

Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are urged to take folic acid during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage and neural birth defects such as spina bifida that occur when the fetus’s spine and back don’t close during development. Health authorities emphasize the critical importance of taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy and women follow that misguided advice.

When I was pregnant (and even prior to that, when I was trying to conceive) I was taking folic acid religiously. Surely, no woman wants their child to be at risk for birth defects!.

Is it the right approach?

Well, needless to say I was shocked to learn that I may have increased my own and my son’s risk for certain cancers by taking these supplements. I learned about this as I was reading “Super Immunity” by doctor Joel Fuhrman. Here is what I learned.

Folate Versus Folic Acid

Most people don’t know the difference between folate versus folic acid, as the terms are often used interchangeably.

*Did you know that folic acid is not found in natural foods at all?!!*

It is the synthetic form of folate that is used as an ingredient in vitamin supplements. Basically it’s a cheap counterfeit isolate of the naturally occurring nutrient, folate.

Folate is a member of the B vitamin family and is found naturally in plant foods, especially green vegetables. It is involved with DNA methilation, which essentially turns genes on and off. This critical role makes folate essential in fetal development and nerve tissue health, as well as cancer progression.

Folate is needed for the proper development of the human body. It is involved in producing the genetic material called DNA and in numerous other bodily functions.

Foods that are naturally high in folate include leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, and lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons), legumes, yeast, mushrooms, orange juice, sunflower seeds, and tomato juice.

Folic acid has been added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, as required by federal law.

The term folate (NOT folic acid) really encompasses a multitude of naturally occurring chemical cousins – chemists call them isomers – that have a wide range of health benefits. Without full-spectrum natural folate, our body becomes a breeding ground for various diseases, including Alzheimer’s, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, neural tube defects, poor cognitive performance, depression, hearing loss and many types of cancer.

The liver can convert the isolate folic acid into the complete spectrum of isomers that constitute folate. But as we age, that ability declines. Then no matter how much folic acid you take, your folate blood levels decline.

The result is a folate deficiency, which invites all those diseases associated with old age mentioned earlier. Folic acid has also been suspected of shuffling DNA around a bit, producing unpredictable results. It is not worth gambling with your health!

What is Wrong With Taking Folic Acid Supplements

The problem with folic acid is what you just learned: that it’s not the same as the folate found in whole foods.

Maybe folic acid is not too bad all the time. But it is certainly very risky over the long term. Recent studies have demonstrated significant concerns about folic acid.

While eating too much folate-rich foods is not a concern, consuming too much folic acid has been implicated in increasing the occurrence of certain cancers.

In patients with ischemic heart disease in Norway, where there is no folic acid fortification of foods, treatment with folic acid plus vitamin B12 was associated with increased cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality. In the United States, Canada, and Chile, the institution of a folic acid supplementation program was associated with an increased prevalence of colon cancer. A random control trial found that that daily supplementation with 1 mg of folic acid was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

“The present system, where women rely on a pill and not on real foods, leads to a plethora of serious health problems in children- childhood asthma, infant respiratory tract infections, and cardiac birth defect. On the other hand, the children of women who consumed more food folate during pregnancy were less likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Even more startling is the reduction of childhood cancers seen in the children of women who consumed folate-containing green foods during pregnancy and did NOT take folic acid supplements.”

The reliance on folic acid during pregnancy, instead of educating women about the importance of consuming natural food for their folate needs, is indeed dangerous.  Many researchers believe supplementation in this way can never work effectively, since about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and not all women will comply with the recommendation.

And even pregnant women should NOT be supplementing with synthetic folic acid, as it appears to lead to increased risks for cancer.

“Getting enough folate from natural foods can keep cancers from starting, by repairing errors in DNA, but folic acid appears to feed tumor development and promote carcinogenesis. In light of the existing research, I do not recommend that pregnant women take a prenatal that contains folic acid. I do recommend a blood test for folate sufficiency before even contemplating pregnancy, and I do recommend a high-folate diet rich in green vegetables. A diet that includes the regular consumption of green vegetables is the safest way to protect your offspring and achieve protection from cancer, heart disease, and all cause mortality.” Says dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Sources of Folate: Nature knows best when it comes to healthy nutrition

Fortunately, there is no need to take folic acid, as folate is abundant in many foods, especially dark green vegetables. Spinach, kale, broccoli, and other veggies are well bestowed with folate. It’s also available in whole grains and legumes that you purchase dry. You can even get it from citrus fruits, melons, and bananas. An excellent folate source that can be used as a supplement is unfortified brewer’s yeast.

Spinach, raw

843 μg


225 μg

835 μg
Tomatoes, yellow

200 μg

Romaine lettuce

800 μg

Tomatoes, orange

180 μg

Asparagus, cooked

750 μg


150 μg

Mustard greens, raw

700 μg

Red peppers, raw

150 μg

Collards, raw

550 μg


90 μg

Okra, cooked
520 μg
Snow/Snap peas, raw

100 μg

Bok choy, raw

500 μg

Summer squash

100 μg

Brocolli Rabe, raw
375 μg
Tomatoes, red

85 μg

Arugula, raw

340 μg


75 μg

Artichokes, cooked

330 μg


70 μg

Brussels sprouts, cooked

300 μg

Beets, cooked

50 μg

Broccoli, cooked

300 μg


55 μg

Cauliflower, raw

225 μg


50 μg

Red leaf lettuce
225 μg
Sunflower seeds

40 μg

Celery, raw
225 μg
Quinoa, cooked

35 μg

Hidden Dangers of Supplements

Beware of Hidden Dangers of Synthetic Supplements: What you don't know can hurt you!

Another reason to eat your greens & drink your green smoothies every day!

Whole foods are best!

Nature knows best when it comes to nutrition. Whole foods are best! Eat your greens and drink your smoothies!

More Resources

“Super Immunity” by Joel Fuhrman, MD

If you are pregnant, DO NOT take prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid!

The little known (but crucial) difference between folate and folic acid 

Is the mainstream still cheating you out of the best health possible—with folic acid?!

The Folic Acid Fallacy: How Your Multi-vitamin Might be Killing You

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

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