Folic Acid vs Folate

By Clair Dainard - Updated April 23, 2012


Rice White Medium Grain - fortified with folic acid
Spinach - Green leafy vegetables have folate

While there are many sites available that can help track calories, how much can they really tell you about the quality of your daily diet? At Woojabooty, we believe that quality is equally as important as quantity when helping you analyze your dietary intake. By emphasizing nutrition over simply calorie intake, Woojabooty can provide insight into helping you to avoid potential health-threats, such as trans fats, processed foods, and synthetic additives.

Folate is a B-vitamin that plays numerous essential roles in the human body. Folate metabolism is involved in DNA replication, production of neurotransmitters, and plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. We are now discovering that perhaps equally as important as the amount of folate you get in your diet is the source and form of folate you are choosing. In whole foods, such as dark leafy greens, beans, and lentils, this vitamin primarily exists in its natural folate form. In fortified or processed foods however, it is often found as folic acid. Research is now uncovering that high-doses of synthetic folic acid may actually be harmful and increase your risk of certain chronic diseases.

So where is all this synthetic folic acid coming from? The high dose of synthetic, folic acid now seen in our food supply is actually a direct result of the action of the US government. The 20th century brought the massive introduction of processed and refined grain products (white flour) to the American food supply. These new refined grain products were stripped of their natural vitamins and soon deficiencies, including folate-deficiency, became more common.  Folate deficiency during pregnancy can result in neural tube defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida. In efforts to prevent these devastating birth defects, the US office of Public Health Services recommended that all women of child-bearing age consume at least 400 mcg of folate per day. In addition, the FDA passed legislation in 1998 that required all refined grain products to be fortified with folic acid. Since the mandate, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the resulting decrease in neural tube defect births was nearly 26%[i]. Unfortunately due to the massive consumption of refined grains in the US as well as the overuse of folic acid by food manufacturers, many Americans are getting considerably more than the RDA for folate from their food intake. Combine that with the fact that foods fortified with folic acid provide nearly 1.7 times the folic acid activity as natural folate (supplements with folic acid provide nearly double the activity), and it is clear that Americans are consuming higher bioactive levels of folate than ever before [ii].

So what’s the concern with too much folic acid? Folate in its natural form supports healthy cell replication and is seen as beneficial in the prevention of cancer. Folic acid however, with its artificial, high bioactivity in the body, may actually encourage the growth of unhealthy cells. A 2009 study published in  The Journal of the American Medical Association found that high dose supplementation with folic acid among patients with heart disease found a significant increase in cancer, particularly lung cancer [iii]. There also appears to be a connection between high-dose folic acid supplementation and prostate cancer risk in men. [iv]In addition, since the introduction of fortification with folic acid, an increase in colorectal cancer has been observed in the US and other countries with similar guidelines. Many researchers believe there could be a connection[v].

While some nutrition software programs analyze total vitamin intake, only Woojabooty allows its users to determine which form of folate their diet is providing. By differentiating whole food sources of folate from processed and fortified foods, Woojabooty helps you to meet your daily folate needs and avoid dangerously high levels of folic acid. By emphasizing health and food quality, Woojabooty provides users with an exceptional level of insight into overall wellness while they achieve their weight-management goals.




[i] Spina bifida and anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate--United States, 1995-1996 and 1999-2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004;53(17):362-365. 

[ii] Bailey LB. Dietary reference intakes for folate: the debut of dietary folate equivalents. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(10):294-299.

[iii] Ebbing, M. et al. Cancer Incidence and Mortality After Treatment With Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 JAMA. 2009;302(19):2119-2126. Doi 

[iv] Figueiredo, JC; et al"Folic Acid and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Results From a Randomized Clinical Trial". Journal of the National Cancer Institute, (2009). 101 (6): 432–5.

[v]  Hirsch S, et al.Colon cancer in Chile before and after the start of the flour fortification program with folic acid. Eur J Gastronererol Hepatol 2009 Apr;21(4):436-9.