What is Methylfolate?

Biology_Chemistry_Nature_AdobeStock_226945091.jpegArticle courtesy of @live.love.balance

Have you heard of the term “methylfolate”? And if you have, do you know what it is? It also goes by other names, such as folic acid, folate, folinic acid, methylfolate, 5-MTHF, L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate… but what are the differences? Well, I am here to clear things up for you!

Natural Vs Synthetic Forms of Folic Acid

The word “folate” is the general term for a group of water-soluble B vitamins, also known as “Vitamin B9”, which are found in nature. Methylfolate, 5-MTHF and L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate are all types of naturally-occurring folate.

“Folic acid”, on the other hand, refers to the synthetic, oxidised form of vitamin B9, and is used in many dietary supplements and food fortification processes. The natural forms of folate are metabolically active, which means they can be easily utilised by the body to make energy.

When we supplement with synthetic folic acid, it is not readily available to the body, since it has to undergo several biochemical conversions in order to be useful. In humans this is extremely slow, and most studies regarding this conversion are performed on rats. The results are often unreliable, since rats have a quicker DHFR enzyme than that of humans!

MTHFR Gene and Folate

In order for the human body to convert folic acid to the methylated form, it needs to have the working genes to be able to do that. This is where the MTHFR gene comes in; which in 50% of the population, is 70% reduced as a result of a common genetic mutation.

Supplementing with synthetic folic acid further suppresses activity of this gene, which causes a buildup of unmetabolised folic acid, circulating around the body. To make matters worse, the folate receptors on our cells have an affinity for folic acid, resulting in folate uptake being blocked. Folic acid is unable to perform any of the tasks that folate does, essentially rendering it useless.

What is the Role of Folate in the Human Body?

One of the most important cellular processes that supports our health is one known as methylation. This is a series of chemical reactions which occur billions of times every second. During this process, compounds called “methyl groups” are donated to other molecules, producing energy, known as ATP.

It is important to understand that every single cell in our bodies rely on this simple mechanism in order to function in everyday life, and so it is vital to ensure it is working optimally. Methylation processes affects not only our energy, but our mood, growth and repair, detoxification, sleep, hormone regulation, immunity and much more.

Folic acid gets a lot of attention due to its ability to prevent neural tube defects in pregnancy. However, there is still a substantial occurrence of neural tube defects in women, despite folic acid supplementation. This is largely down to the type of folate being used – folic acid rather than methylfolate (5-MTHF) or folinic acid (calcium folinate).

Natural Sources of Folate

96% of humans have unmetabolised folic acid due to high consumption of fortified foods. So technically, people supplementing with folic acid may actually be folate deficient!

By obtaining folate from natural, unprocessed whole foods, or through supplementation of methylfolate, one can be assured the body is getting all the benefits of this vital compound. Dark leafy greens are generally the best way to get folate from your diet. Here’s a list of foods that are naturally rich to give you inspiration:

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Beef Liver
  • Beets
  • Black Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Butter Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cavelo Nero
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
  • Eggs
  • Flaxseeds
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Kidney Beans
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lemons
  • Lentils
  • Limes
  • Navy Beans
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Peas
  • Pinto Beans
  • Soy Beans
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts

You can also purchase folic acid in it’s active methylated form, on the G&G website. Just head to www.gandgvitamins.com/.


Kirsty Gillmore is a registered Nutritional Therapist (BA Hons, DipCNM, mBANT, CNHC) and New Business Representative at G&G Vitamins. Kirsty is also the Founder of LLB Nutrition, a nutritional therapy clinic and wellness blog based in South East London. Visit the website here: www.live-love-balance.com

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