The titular question has plagued mankind since back when our species lived in caves. “What’s the difference between folic acid and folate?” was up there with questions like “why does a giant bird steal the sun at night?” and “when the sad dragons stop weeping will the river dry up?” But now, thousands of years later, we finally have an answer to at least one of those questions.
Folic acid and folate are both water-soluble B9-vitamins. Folate is found naturally in foods like leafy green vegetables, corn, peas and beet juice. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.
Folic acid and folate are suggested for women of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects. Vitamin B-9 also plays a role in cognitive functioning, cell creation, possibly reducing the risk of colon cancer and helping deal with psychiatric illnesses and cardiovascular conditions.
Are There Any Other Real Differences?
The differences are pretty subtle. Supplementation with folic acid is considered pretty safe, but there are a few noteworthy caveats.
Fun Fact: Folic acid is absorbed faster but must be converted to folate before it becomes effective.
The first and probably the largest concern is that folic acid supplementation can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, a common and potentially dangerous problem in the elderly communities but rare in people of child-bearing age.
This Harvard article warns that some people are concerned by a couple studies that suggest that an overabundance of folic acid–not folate mind you–might speed the growth of existing tumors. They stress that concerns surrounding excessive folic acid levels and cancer are somewhat dubious but probably worth looking into. Because, you know, safety.
In contrast, there are zero concerns about folate from food sources. So, like usual, food sources of vitamins are a bit more advantageous than their supplemental counterparts. That’s one more reason to get some daily folate from Red Rush beet juice. It’s made of food and is food!