Folic acid is everywhere – it’s in prenatal and multivitamins, and it is in fortified flour and other foods. While we hear a lot about folic acid, the benefits of folate are often under recognized. Folate or B9 is in many green vegetables, tomatoes, papayas among other foods.
Folic acid is inactive, and has no specific role in it’s native form in the body. Folic acid must be metabolized through many steps, ending in a pivotal reaction by the enzyme MTHFR (5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) before it can be beneficial. Once metabolized, folic acid becomes active folate, or 5MTHF; it is the active folate that plays many pivotal roles in the body.
Active folate has many important roles in the body.
Folate is vital for several chemical reactions leading to DNA synthesis, methylation and repair. In essence, it assists in turns on and off genes for new and dividing cells, such as in fetal development during pregnancy and with the cell proliferation of cancer.
Modification of DNA proliferation is only one of the many roles active folate plays in the body. It is involved in blood cell production, and active folate donates a methyl group and helps recycle the amino acid homocysteine.
Reactions of active folate eventually leads to the production of SAMe in the liver. SAMe has potent anti-inflammatory properties, supports your immune system, and is involved in the growth, repair and maintenance of your cells. SAMe is considered the major methyl donor of the brain, and is involved in production of many vital co-factors for brain function.
Synthetic SAMe has been used for treatment of many physical ailments such as liver problems, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. It is also extensively used for depression because it leads to production of dopamine and serotonin. Some have also postulated it may help in treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder, although the data is not as strong as for depression.
Active folate also synthesizes BH4 or biopterin, which is a major co-factor for production in the brain of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. As such, active folate status may be important for mood stability and for the functionality of antidepressants, which require these same neurotransmitters to be present in sufficient quantities in the brain to work well.
Active folate requires adequate levels of Vitamins B2, B6, and B12 and co-factors like magnesium.
Given the wide range of actions of active folate, it should come as no surprise that a genetic mutation in the gene that codes for the MTHFR enzyme can have profound effects on the body.
See the post on this genetic mutation for more on this topic, and how to mitigate any issues related to folate metabolism.
For more on this topic, please see my post on natural dietary folate compared to folic acid.