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Folate – synthetic -v- natural

Unmetabolised Folic Acid

FOLATES, FOLIC ACID, AND UNMETHYLATED FOLIC ACID are not much of a muchness when it comes to human physiology. In the advent of Nutrigenomic assessments, Naturopaths have the qualifications to advise on nutrition and nutritional supplements focussing on the impact of different forms of key nutrients.

Found in leafy green vegetables, natural folates are the group name for related members of this B-vitamin family. The synthetic form, folic acid (FA), is used in fortified foods and most dietary supplements. Unmetabolized Folic Acid (UMFA) describes what happens when excess folic acid supplementation builds up in the body and goes unprocessed (or unmetabolized). When folate is properly processed it can assist the body with:

  • Making red blood cells
  • Proper nerve function
  • Bone health
  • Healthy brain and memory
  • Proper immune system function
  • Cell production, especially in skin and the digestive tract
  • Prevention of neural-tube defects (cleft lip and palate, spina bifida) in a developing foetus


The introduction of mandatory fortification with folic acid has significantly reduced the prevalence of folate deficiency in Australia, including in women of childbearing age. There is a clear association between food fortification with folic acid in the USA  since 1998 and the lowered incidence of neural-tube defects. However, good intentions can sometimes have unintended consequences. Personalised nutritional metabolic assessments can play a role in preventing potential unwanted consequences of high levels of unmetabolised folic acid (UMFA). With an increased consumption of folate fortified grains and the popularity of vitamin supplements, many people are getting too much synthetic folic acid. Unlike natural folate, synthetic folic acid is processed very slowly in the body. Even at the Australian Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) intake of 400 mcg per day (for adults), UMFA can be found in the blood stream for extended periods of time. UMFA should be monitored for anyone who takes vitamins and/or consumes products with fortified enriched grains and cereals. Monitoring is also strongly recommended for women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant.  


  • Depressed immune function
  • Enhanced development and progression of certain cancers
  • Anaemia, poor cognition, and impaired memory (with low B12 status)

Too much UMFA has also more recently been linked with a notable increase in the prevalence of MTHFR – a cellular dysfunction preventing activation of essential B-vitamins, including folate.

Before self prescribing, please consult a qualified natural health professional who can assess your individual needs.  For those who suspect that you may have an imbalance, there are effective functional pathology tests available to assess your body’s metabolic function and possible nutritional deficiencies