I am seeing a growing trend in clients with digestive symptoms due to an intolerance to Folic Acid. Isn’t that a very important supplement, don’t we prescribe that in pregnancy? Well yes and no.
Folic Acid is the synthetic form of folate and whilst it is often prescribed by GP’s in pregnancy though it would never be prescribed by a nutritionist. Why, because I would always prescribe the active natural form called 5-MTHF, or active folate for the sake of this article. The reason being is that a staggering 45% of the population have a gene mutation called MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) which is an enzyme required to covert folate into this active form. There are a number of steps in this pathway but let’s just say if you have this gene mutation then ingesting the synthetic form, folic acid, is not a good idea.
Why do I have to worry?
It is very difficult to avoid consuming folic acid. The government decided that too many of the population were deficient in folate, so they decreed that Australian Millers were required to add folic acid (synthetic form) to wheat flour for bread making purposes. Also, thanks to the introduction of the health star rating, many processed food manufacturers are voluntarily adding it to their products to obtain a higher rating. I have even seen it added to soy milk and it is commonly added to breakfast cereals. The only way to know is to read the label, but here is a list of foods that are required to contain folic acid:
Bread, plain and fancy
Rolls and buns
Flat breads made with yeast
Flour for domestic baking
Chemist supplements such as B complex & multivitamins
What are some of the symptoms of folic acid intolerance?
What can I do?
If your symptoms are concerning, then really the best thing to do is to be tested. It’s a simple, cost effective blood test, and if you come back positive then the rest of the family can be tested for free. The reason that testing is important is because there are different types of mutations with each of them having varying degrees of influence on your folate conversion. Sometimes supplementing with the active form can make your symptoms worse so it is best to know what we are dealing with. Many people notice a vast improvement just by simple changes to their diet, whilst others need close monitoring.
Dietary & Lifestyle Changes
Avoid folic acid in foods, read your labels
Increase your intake of green leafy vegetables and legumes
Eat a rainbow of vegetable colours
Avoid, gluten, dairy and soy
Avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates
Reduce your stress levels
Avoid smoking and alcohol
In conclusion real food, bought in its original form and cooked by you is the best option. We really don’t know what we are ingesting unless we prepare it ourselves. Otherwise be prepared to read your labels i.e. take a magnifying glass to the shopping centre!