Folic Acid in Pregnancy: Is it Safe? Or Harmful?
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Every mom-to-be knows how important prenatal vitamins are to your baby’s health. But could your prenatal vitamins contain a potentially harmful ingredient?
Sometime before I got pregnant with my third baby, I came across some startling information on prenatal vitamins (and multivitamins in general).
I have always heard about how important folic acid is during pregnancy. The idea was reinforced at every prenatal appointment.
However, no doctor warned me that folic acid can be toxic to some people.
MTHFR – not M*&%$
One of my passions is making sure my kids are as healthy as possible. I spend a lot of my “spare time” (ha!) researching health topics.
In my research, I stumbled upon the MTHFR genetic mutation.
MTHFR stands for Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase. But most people can’t say all that, so they just cuss at it. (Haha.)
MTHFR is a complicated thing to learn. From my understanding, it’s a genetic mutation that occurs causing your body to have difficulty with the methylation process.
An estimated 40-60 percent of the population has at least one copy of this gene.
You may have the MTHFR mutation if you or someone in your family has:
– midline defects, such as tongue tie
– diabetes, type 1
– mental health conditions (such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia)
– multiple sclerosis
– autoimmune diseases
– many more (for a complete list, click here)
What does MTHFR have to do with folic acid?
Folic acid is synthetic — made in a lab. On the other hand, folate is found naturally in foods, such as leafy greens and certain vegetables, meats, and seeds
Sometimes doctors and researchers use folic acid and folate interchangeably. But they are NOT the same.
When we take man-made (synthetic) folic acid, our bodies have to convert it into something that the body can use and absorb. This process is called methylation. If we have the MTHFR gene, our bodies have a reduced ability to convert folic acid into methylfolate.
If you take folic acid that your body wasn’t able to convert into a usable form, it can become backlogged in your bloodstream with nowhere to go.
There are receptors inside your cells where folate is needed. If folic acid is there and cannot be used, there’s a backup (think massive pileup on the interstate) and the correct form of folate can’t get where the body needs it. This excess folic acid is also linked to certain types of cancer.
So if you have the MTHFR gene and you are taking folic acid, it’s not helping you or your baby. In fact, it may be harming you.
How do I find out if I have MTHFR?
The easiest way to find out if you have MTHFR is to do a saliva test through 23andme.com. (The test is available here on Amazon.) They will give you your raw genetic code and you can upload that into a free program like geneticgenie.com. A report will generate right away and will tell you if you have the mutation.
A doctor can also perform a blood test. They usually will not do this though, unless you have a history of miscarriage, family history of autism, or autoimmune diseases.
In fact, your doctor may not even know anything about MTHFR. When I told my doctor that I was a carrier of the MTHFR gene, he asked, “What is that? A blood clotting disorder?” Yeah, no.
Moral of the story? You have to do your own research. Don’t depend on what your doctor tells you. He or she may not be up to speed.
Doctors are not gods. They are not all-knowing. You must do your own research and keep yourself informed.
So which type of folate should I take?
The type of folate that is most readily used by the body is called methylfolate.
I’ve done a ton of research on prenatal vitamins. I’ve taken about 10 different kinds myself. At this point, the only vitamin I trust is Seeking Health brand.
My husband takes the multi-vitamin and I take the Optimal Prenatal, since I’m still nursing my youngest.
This vitamin contains the correct form of folate along with tons of other vitamins and minerals that are essential to a healthy pregnancy. In fact, it contains both methylfolate and folinic acid. (Methylfolate supports methylation and folinic acid supports DNA.)
The one downside to this vitamin is that you have to take 8 pills per day. (I know, I know.) They recommend you take 3 in the morning, 3 at midday and 2 in the afternoon. That’s a lot of pills! But, I totally understand their rationale behind this.
For one, you want to make sure you are getting a steady supply of nutrients your body needs throughout the day, not just a bunch at one time. This will help with also help with absorption.
Another great thing about this prenatal is that it doesn’t contain iron, which can cause nausea. If iron is something you need, you can always supplement that extra with a bio-available form of iron. (I used this one when I tested low during my third trimester.)
Regardless of whether we have MTHFR or not, the question we should be asking ourselves, is, “If folic acid cannot be used by the body, why are we taking it? Why don’t we just take the type of folate that CAN be used by the body?”
So, examine your vitamin ingredient list. If “folic acid” is listed as one of the ingredients, I believe you should toss them. Buy something that will actually help you and your child.
I know all this information can be overwhelming. If you have questions, please feel free to shoot me an email or leave me a comment!
Does your vitamin contain folic acid? Be sure to check! And be sure to share this info with any women who are pregnant or trying to conceive!
Sources and Recommended Reading on MTHFR and Folic Acid: