Folate is a water-soluble B-vitamin, sometimes referred to as Vitamin B9, that’s found in legumes and dark green leafy vegetables. (The word “folate” is from the latin “folium,” meaning “leaf.”)
Mammals can’t make folate in our cells; we have to get it from food, which is why it’s called an “essential vitamin.” Folate is required for making and repairing DNA, and as we will see below, it’s used in many other critical cell reactions as well. For this reason, the synthetic form, folic acid, is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the medications considered the most effective and safe to meet the needs of health systems worldwide.
Folate has many slight variations in nature. Folic acid (the kind that is used to fortify foods) does exist in some foods naturally, but only in very tiny amounts. However, it’s the cheapest form of folate to manufacture, costing about 1/10th of a penny per dose. For that reason, folic acid is the form of folate that has been used to fortify foods, and the most common form used in supplements.
The problem is, synthetic folic acid is very rarely found in nature, and our cells aren’t designed to use it. We have to first convert it to a form we can utilize. Usually our cells can accomplish that conversion, but as we will discuss below ,almost half the population has a biochemical “handicap” that makes that conversion difficult. Therefore, although synthetic folic acid is cheap, it’s more biochemically efficient to take a form of folate that our bodies can immediately utilize.
Some supplements do contain types of folate that our cells can use without difficulty: either folinic acid, or L-methylfolate (also called L-5-MTHF, methylfolate or just MTHF). Both are part of normal cellular processes, and are therefore easier for our cells to use than synthetic folic acid. But between folinic acid and methylfolate, methylfolate has certain advantages.
Methylfolate is a type of folate that has a methyl group (a carbon and three hydrogen atoms) attached. That methyl group is a crucial addition. It gets passed from one molecule to the next in a process called methylation. Methylation it is used by our cells for many different processes, including:
- Turning genes on and off
- Building neurotransmitters (epinephrine and serotonin)8,9
- Building and repairing DNA
- Creating Natural Killer cells,12 which your body needs to fight off disease
- Making the molecule phosphatidylcholine,7which is used to build and maintain all of our cell membranes
- Making the myelin sheath that surrounds neurons (cells in our nervous system)
- Producing energy, by helping to create carnitine and a molecule called ATP
In short, methylation is crucial to our survival. The problem is, methylation can easily be disrupted by medications, toxins, and, commonly, by genetic mutations. The most well-known mutation that affects methylation is located in the gene that forms methylfolate, called the MTHFR gene.
As noted above, most multivitamins use the cheapest form of folate: synthetic folic acid. Unfortunately for the consumer, converting synthetic folic acid into methylfolate– the kind of folate our bodies actually need– is a multi-step process, and not all of us can run that process in our cells very efficiently.1
About half of the population has mutations in one or more of the genes involved in that process. The most significant and “infamous” of these mutations are in the MTHFR gene.2
Diminished function of the genes involved in folate metabolism means that synthetic folic acid clogs up our receptors without being metabolized properly– preventing “real” (natural) folate from binding. That means we have trouble repairing DNA– and flawed DNA repair compromises one of our core cellular defense systems3,4. Impaired methylation also means trouble building ATP for energy,5 phosphatidylcholine for our cell membranes,6 or the neurotransmitters that help support a positive outlook on life.7,8
The best way around the MTHFR problem is to supplement with 5-MTHF. For that reason, synthetic folic acid is not something we use in Curos products.
But… how much MTHF should you use?
Some have noticed that, even at the clinical dose of six capsules per day,9 Curos Essential only contains 334mcg per day of MTHF: slightly less than the RDA. This may seem odd, especially since we included many of the B-vitamins in amounts far above the RDA! If methylation is so important, shouldn’t we use more methylfolate?
Actually, it’s precisely because methylation is crucial to so many aspects of cell activity, that we recommend it be used judiciously. Recent research shows that taking too much methylfolate can create an imbalance in your cellular defense mechanisms.10Based on Dr. Trutt and Dr. Anderson’s clinical experience, one of the most common supplement errors people make is overdoing their supplementation of methylfolate and methylcobalamin.
One common issue is: because methylfolate is involved in neurotransmitter production, taking too much can cause anxiety. This is particularly notable in people who also have a mutation in the gene that breaks down epinephrine after it is formed—so methylfolate ramps up the production of epinephrine, and getting rid of it is a challenge. Given how many areas of cell metabolism methylation is involved in, it’s not hard to imagine other challenges that can arise from taking too much methylfolate. For that reason, our core product contains a judicious amount. In their private practices, Dr. Trutt and Dr. Anderson recommend additional methylfolate when appropriate, depending on the results of genetic testing.