Know your Ingredients: The Folic Acid Problem

As a naturopathic doctor I often tell patients that I’m a supplements snob. That’s because there is a difference between grocery store supplements and quality brands. Today we will dive into these differences and I’ll do my best to explain them. The diagram above is part of the methylation cycle. It shows the conversion of folic acid to to 5,10-Methylene THF (Methylfolate). 5,10-Methylene THF is the form of folate that your body uses in the methylation cycle. Folic acid comes into your body and needs to be converted to a usable form like methylfolate. This conversion takes happens via chemical reactions that take place inside of your cells. To convert folic acid to methylfolate the underlined enzyme DHFR is used. How well DHFR converts folic acid to folate is dependent upon your genetics and the presence of cofactors like vitamins and minerals in your cells. Simply put your body uses building blocks to assemble things and like every assembly line the next step is dependent upon the current step. How fast the assembly runs depends upon your genes (efficiency of the workers) and the presence of cofactors (support for the workers).

Some people have assembly lines where all the workers are efficient and they have all the support they need. Other people have assembly lines with sluggish workers and very little support (low levels of vitamins and minerals). This all matters because some supplements provide you with the already converted form of vitamins while others provide you with the precursers that might need several chemical reactions to undergo before being ready for use. So now when you look at the picture below I hope you see that folic acid gets converted to DHF using the DHFR enzyme. Once that reaction takes place DHF is converted to THF using the DHFR enzyme. THF is then converted to 5,10-Methylene THF using the SHMT enzyme. This diagram is abbreviated so it does not show all of the steps between folic acid and methylfolate. 

If you look at the bottom of the green box you see folate as 5-methyl THF being used right away without any conversions. This is the difference between activated/quality vitamins and cheap ones. The cheaper forms of vitamins have to undergo multiple conversions that are dependent upon genes and other vitamins and minerals before being ready to use. While quality forms enter the body ready to work. Do you have folic acid in your supplements or do they have better forms? How about cyanocobalamin of pyridoxine hcl? These are just a few of the many vitamins that need to be converted to be used. Next I’ll discuss why fish oil is so important to your health.

dhfr, mthfr, methylfolate, methylation cycle

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