Folic Acid Needn’t Be Villainized…

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Nor does folate!

I have seen many, many articles about “why folic acid is bad for you.” Basically, the articles go, the stuff is poison to your system because it is synthetic, cannot be processed effectively, and builds up in your system. AKA – it’s basically the devil. (Never mind that the folate supplement many of these articles suggest in place of folic acid is also not natural, is synthetically reproduced in a lab, and made into pill form, as well. Shh.)

Here are some good examples of this all/nothing approach to folic acid:

I always wondered then, why Dr Ben Lynch seemed to see a prevalent response to the addition of folate in his protocol. A response I had, and following his advice, began yet another supplement (“natural” … errr… synthetic niacin powder) to deal with the side effects of folate added to my supplement regimen. But, it worked for me for a time, so I didn’t wonder for long.

In his Methylfolate Side Effects article, he says there are three categories of people who take methylfolate. The first are folks who seem to do well from the beginning and always do well. The third are people who don’t do well, immediately.

The second category (this was my experience):

“A person starts methylfolate has an amazingly incredible week where they are happy, interacting and alert. Then the second week comes and they switch to wanting to hide in a room by themselves or literally throw dishes across the room out of anger. Or they may become bed ridden from muscle aches, intense headaches or joint pain.”

None of those issues seem like something good and wholesome is going on in the body. It sounds quite like your body is in revolt… because it is.

Now, I didn’t think too much about this when I moved from (the mostly synthetic) Lynch protocol and my natural thyroid treatments to Yasko’s protocol (it’s been quite easy to find food/herb sources on her list, and make natural substitutions when there have not been natural options). I was just trying to survive at that point (read the link at “my experience,” above), and couldn’t have mentally processed it at the time. I continued to think that folic acid was not good for anyone.

When I started taking Dr Amy Yasko’s All-in-One vitamin, it never occurred to me that there was folic acid in it. In fact, close to a year of taking it with no side effects, and I still didn’t realize! It wasn’t until someone told me that Yasko recommended folic acid for very specific reasons in the autistic community, that I took a look on the supplement and saw NO folate! {horror of horrors!}

They shared, basically, a clip from this article (the whole thing is really a must-read!), which says:

Now I am going to be very specific with regard to why I use low dose folic acid rather than folate. Folate is basically a chain of glutamates. The difference between folic acid and folate is the stability and the length of their glutamate chains. So, if you are MTHFR C677T++ and you take high dose folate, you potentially have a chain of unused glutamate molecules left in your system. You cannot process it efficiently to 5 methyl THF because of your SNPs. You run the risk of folate breaking down to release glutamate into your system. STEP 1 of this program is focused on glutamate/GABA balance. I have made significant progress for some individuals merely by getting their glutamate and GABA into balance. Thus, I am not choosing to add high doses of a form of folate that could break down into glutamate, especially in the population I work with.”

The Linus Pauling Institute goes over this in the “Bioavailability” section on folate/folic acid:

“Dietary folates exist predominantly in the polyglutamyl form (containing several glutamate residues), whereas folic acid—the synthetic vitamin form—is a monoglutamate, containing just one glutamate moiety. In addition, natural folates are reduced molecules, whereas folic acid is fully oxidized. These chemical differences have major implications for the bioavailability of the vitamin such that folic acid is considerably more bioavailable than naturally occurring food folates at equivalent intake levels.
The intestinal absorption of dietary folates is a two-step process that involves the hydrolysis of folate polyglutamates to the corresponding monoglutamyl derivatives, followed by their transport into intestinal cells. There, folic acid is converted into a naturally occurring folate, namely 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, which is the major circulating form of folate in the human body (see Figure 1 above).
The bioavailability of naturally occurring folates is inherently limited and variable. There is much variability in the ease with which folates are released from different food matrices, and the polyglutamyl “tail” is removed (de-conjugation) before uptake by intestinal cells. Also, other dietary constituents can contribute to instability of labile folates during the processes of digestion. As a result, naturally occurring folates show incomplete bioavailability compared with folic acid. The bioavailability of folic acid, in contrast, is assumed to be 100% when ingested as a supplement, while folic acid in fortified food is estimated to have about 85% the bioavailability of supplemental folic acid.”

So, what is happening for those that cannot handle an overload of glutamates and not enough GABA? Why is that pertinent for Dr Yasko, and in the context of the discussion of healing genetic issues?

Well, here are some symptoms of a GABA/glutamate imbalance:

  • Hyperalgesia (pain amplification)
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • ADHD-like symptoms, such as inability to focus

Huh. That sounds similar to Dr Lynch’s observations of people when using folate… with it’s long chain of glutamates.
Both Dr Yasko and Dr Lynch have areas of lacking knowledge – not only is it impossible to know all things, nutrigenomics is still a fairly new and growing field of science and understanding. We know very little.

It just seems odd that one can see a reaction to folate and dismiss that for some, it is harming, not helping that individual. Instead of opening up discussion about why synthetic folate supplementation may be the wrong choice for some people and synthetic folic acid supplementation is needed instead, Dr Lynch’s advocacy is to add yet another supplement to cover over the symptoms of the problem… all the while, glutamate is literally killing your neurotransmitters, killing your brain cells. Now, it’s just doing it quietly under the covers.

I don’t think either folate or folic acid needs to be villainized. I think we need to make as much information available as possible to the community that is struggling health wise, and remember that a one-size health plan only fits… one.

Folate supplementation can harm or it can heal – but it’s obviously not healing when taking it causes you to recluse, lose eye contact, have intense bouts with pain, or rage for no reason.

If you want to dig into more about GABA/glutamate, this is a very readable article, How to Increase GABA and Balance Glutamate.

 

Learning about the different chemical makeups of folate and folic acid has been very good for me as a Type 4. While I know there are many issues in life that are black/white, right/wrong, all/nothing… there’s generally more we can know about a situation before figuring out exactly what that is. Jumping at the first bit of data and making a conclusion helps no one. I need to take my time and continue researching, acknowledging that something as complicated as genetics has more options for healing, than one.

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