Folate (L-methylfolate or vitamin B9) and Folic Acid:
Food Sources of Folate, the bioactive natural form, include:
- beans, black eyed peas, green peas,
- peanuts and other nuts and seeds,
- whole grains,
- asparagus, most dark green vegetables,
- orange juice, citrus fruits.
- Fortified cereal and rice are good sources of folic acid, the supplemental form.
Folate is the natural form; Folic Acid is in supplements & fortified foods.
Folate is the form of the vitamin found in food and is more bioactive. Folic acid is the form that is commonly available as a supplement and in fortified foods, however it is less bioactive, less able to function until methyl groups are added which requires adequate supplies of vitamin B12. A genetic difference may exist in some individuals that prevent the body from being able to convert the inactive folic acid form into folate, the methylated bioactive form of the vitamin. [More about methylation.]
Symptoms of Folate deficiency include:
- Deficiency of folate can cause megaloblastic / macrocytic anemia which is characterized by red blood cells that are over-sized and ineffective. Anemia symptoms include being short of breath and feeling tired and weak. The symptoms are due to a shortage of normal red blood cells and reduced ability to transport oxygen with each breath.
- Folate is needed for DNA synthesis and for DNA methylation which may be important for preventing cancerous changes from occurring in the DNA.
- Lack of folate may increase heart disease risks due to less breakdown of homocysteine. Vitamin B6 and B12 are also necessary, a deficiency of any one of the three might cause an accumulation of homocysteine.
- Folate is important during pregnancy for fetal development. Spina bifida and cleft palate are birth defects that may be caused by folate deficiency.
- Deficiency of several of the B vitamin group can cause changes in the appearance and surface texture of the tongue. B vitamins that can cause changes in the tongue are mentioned in the following excerpt and include “niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (folate/B9), and vitamin B12”:
“Deficiencies of niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, folic acid, or vitamin B12, resulting from poor diet or from the administration of antagonists, may cause a sore, beefy-red tongue without a coat. In the chronic vitamin deficiency state, the tongue may become atrophic and smooth.” – “The Tongue – Clinical Methods – NCBI bookshelf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236/
- See the post on Vitamin B6 for more information about how the group of B vitamins work together in energy metabolism and cell growth.
Reference used for food sources & symptoms of Folate deficiency:
Other References used for the food sources of Folate and Folic Acid:
Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
Research in the field of epigenetics by a team led by Dr. Randy Jirtle, an oncologist at Duke University, found physical changes in the experimental groups to be preventable if the experimental BPA diet was also supplemented with the B vitamins, folic acid and B12.
Mice who were fed BPA prenatally had significantly more babies develop a characteristic hair color and they were at increased risk for gaining excess weight compared to the control group of prenatal mice that did not receive any BPA. However when the mice were fed a diet with extra B vitamins prenatally along with the BPA there were fewer babies with the change in hair color and associated health risks. The addition of the soy bean phytochemical, genistein, also helped reduce the number of baby mice who developed the change in hair color pigmentation. [1,2
Bisphenyl A acts similarly to the hormone estrogen. Genistein is a phytoestrogen that may help block harmful effects of estrogen mimetics. The B vitamins used in the study were chosen because they can donate a methyl group which is necessary for allowing genes to remain unactivated, to stay in an off position. A gene that has few methyl groups may be more easily activated than normally.
Two other methyl donors, choline and betaine, were used in addition to the folic acid and vitamin B12. Choline is also a water soluble essential nutrient that is frequently grouped with the rest of the B vitamins. Choline is found throughout the body but is particularly important within the brain. Betaine is a metabolite of choline. Spinach and beets are rich in betaine. Good sources of choline include egg yolks, soy beans, beef, poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables and cauliflower. 
Betaine is also being marketed as a medication for helping to reduce blood levels of homocysteine in the inherited condition, homocystinuria. (Reducing elevated levels of homocysteine may also reduce the risk of developing heart disease.) 
A prenatal diet providing a low intake of the methyl donors folate and B12 has been associated with cardiomyopathy in the infants.  Infants born to mothers with a low intake of the methyl donors folate, B12 and choline were also more at risk for cardiomyopathy later in life.  Not taking prenatal vitamins during the three months prior to conceiving or during the first month of pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk for autism in the infants especially for women who have a genetic variation in their methylation metabolism, (MTHFR 677 TT, CBSrs234715 GT + TT).  People with problems in the methylation pathways may need to take a methylated form of B12 and folate rather than the more commonly available form of folic acid. 
A link between BPA intake and an increased risk for heart disease has been discovered.  The physiologic reason is not known. Tips from the article for people hoping to reduce exposure to BPA include:
- avoid use of foods and beverages from cans,
- avoid re-using plastic bottles for beverages,
- limit handling of store receipts or placing them in store bags with unwrapped foods. Some register receipts have a BPA coating
- and wash your hands after handling register receipts. 
Adequate B vitamin intake is essential for reducing elevated levels of homocysteine. An increased blood level of homocysteine has been associated with increased heart disease risk. The amount of calcification within coronary arteries has also been shown to be predictive of heart disease risk. 
It has not been conclusively proven that a diet with adequate supplies of methyl donors protects DNA from changes that may be caused by BPA but a diet providing plenty of B vitamins is also unlikely to cause harm. B vitamins are water soluble and quite safe except in such large doses that would be difficult to obtain from food sources alone. The B vitamins work together in metabolic pathways that are essential for burning and using energy sources. The B vitamins might be described as being similar to matchsticks for accessing the stored energy and so they are important for daily energy levels and for a good mood.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
- Synopsis of the BPA prenatal mouse study, by Pete Myers, PhD, “Bisphenol A alters epigenetic programming in fetal mice, and the effect can be reversed by genistein“, (about the BPA mouse study) (July 30, 2007): [environmentalhealthnews.org/] *link i no longer working. Excerpt: “The new findings focus on BPA’s ability to remove ‘protective molecules’ that normally prevent genes from being turned on at the wrong time or in the wrong tissue.”
- The full research article: by Dana C Dolinoy, Dale Huang, Randy L. Jirtle, Maternal nutrient supplementation counteracts bisphenol A-induced DNA hypomethylation in early development, PNAS, August 7, 2007, vol 104, No. 32, 13056-13061 [pnas.org] *The mice in the experimental groups were being fed a diet including 50 mg BPA/kg which was considered to be less than the known toxic dose for mice but it represents a greater amount than is assumed to be found in the average human’s daily diet.
- “Choline” on whfoods.com: [whfoods.com]
- “Betaine,” (Feb. 11, 2012) PubMed Health: [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/] *link not working, part of the information is available here: [med.nyu.edu]
- Garcia MM et al, “Methyl donor deficiency induces cardiomyopathy through altered methylation/acetylation of PGC-1α by PRMT1 and SIRT1.” J Pathol. 2011 Nov;225(3):324-35. doi: 10.1002/path.2881. Epub 2011 Jun 1. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Joseph J, “Fattening by deprivation: methyl balance and perinatal cardiomyopathy.” J Pathol. 2011 Nov;225(3):315-7. doi: 10.1002/path.2942. Epub 2011 Jul 7. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Kathleen Doheny, “Higher BPA Levels, More Heart Disease? Researchers Find Higher BPA Levels Linked With Narrower Arteries; Industry Says Study Proves Nothing” (Aug. 15, 2012) WebMD: [webmd.com]
- Michael O’Riordan, “Coronary artery calcium bests other risk markers for CVD risk assessment” (Aug. 22, 2012) theheart.org: [theheart.org/article] *subscription service
- Rebecca J. Schmidt, et. al. , “Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism,” Epidemiology. 2011 Jul; 22(4): 476–485. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- “Folate is essential and Folic Acid is commonly available,” Aug. 21, 2013 [transcendingsquare.com]
- “MTHFR C677T Mutation: Basic Protocol,” on February 24, 2012
Other references regarding B vitamins:
- Article by Kate Geagan, MS, RD, End Your Energy Crisis With B12, (Jan. 10, 2012), The Doctor Oz Show website: [doctoroz.com/]
- Mood Disorders – Depression, The Vitamin Update website: [vitamin-update.com] Includes information about mental health symptoms and functions of several B vitamins and a few trace minerals.
- Author: Vladimir Hegyi, Dermatologic Manifestations of Pellegra, (May 15, 2012) emedicine.Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (deficiency of Niacin or B3)
- Author: Dieu-Thu Nguyen-Khoa, BeriBeri (Thiamin Deficiency), (Dec. 13, 2011) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (B1)
- Author: Richard E. Frye, Pyridoxine Deficiency, (May 26, 2010) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (B6)
- Author: Angela Gentili, Folic Acid Deficiency, (Dec 1, 2011) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com]
/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health care. Please see a health professional for individualized health care./