By Dr Vanshika Gupta Adukia
Vitamin B9, commonly known as folic acid, is known to play a key role in fertility, pregnancy and the growth of a baby. It is well-known to most women of childbearing age that this vitamin plays a key role in the development and wellbeing of the baby during pregnancy. This is also one of the major reasons women feel comfortable with the idea of consuming Vitamin B9 as they start preparing to work towards conception.
Unfortunately, not many women know that their routine efforts towards maintaining sufficient levels of Vitamin B9 are actually not being provided by their choice of supplement – folic acid.
Folic acid, although a form of Vitamin B9, is the manmade, oxidised synthetic compound used in food fortification and dietary supplements. The real natural and bio-available form of Vitamin B9 is known as folate.
Folate has several advantages over its synthetic form, which is folic acid. Unlike folic acid, folate crosses over the placenta and is hence available to the baby for absorption at higher rates.
To be able to use the folic acid consumed, our bodies must convert folic acid to active methyl-folate through a series of enzymatic processes. However, approximately 60 per cent of the population globally genetically lack the ability to convert folic acid to methyl-folate. Studies have found gene mutation to be the primary cause for this impaired conversion.
Most women are unaware of whether or not they fall among the group of individuals whose bodies are actually unable to bring about the folic acid to methyl-folate conversion.
For this reason, it becomes even more important to start consuming sufficient natural folate as a regular practice instead of folic acid.
Additionally, folic acid is also shown to block the body’s receptors for active folate uptake. Long-term use of folic acid can actually prove to be detrimental as our bodies could probably then be blunted off the natural folate uptake mechanism.
If ingested, folic acid is not broken down by the body or the pathway is inhibited due to gene mutation, the unmethylated folic acid circulating in the system could in fact prove to be unhealthy.
These reasons make it imperative to increase awareness about the correct form of Vitamin B9, that is, folate. Although still not widely known, supplements are available in form of folate for consumption during pregnancy.
Women must be encouraged to consume dietary folate through foods such as green leafy vegetables, lentils, beans, brussel sprouts and citrus fruits. Non-vegetarians could look at consuming cooked chicken and liver.
(The writer is a pregnancy, childbirth, lactation specialist and pelvic floor physiotherapist.)