Folate, when it comes from food is a good thing. You can never really have too much folate when it comes from food. Whole food sources of folate might come in the form of meat like chicken or beef. Or, alternately from lentils, beans or dark leafy greens.
Sometimes we might not get enough folate from our diet and may need to supplement with an added source. When you do so it is important to keep a couple things in mind. First off stay away from the synthetic form folic acid as your body may not be able to convert it into the active form folate.
Second make sure you stick to the recommended dose. Some of the side effects you might notice if you are taking too much folate is diarrhea, cramps, confusion, and skin reactions like rashes as well as difficulty sleeping, mood changes and even a lower sex drive. The max amount you want to consume each day from supplements is 1,000 micrograms. Note that that total also includes folic acid from fortified foods.
The optimal dose per day of active folate is 400 micrograms. But if you are taking a 400mcg folic acid supplement you might not be getting as much active folate as you think, we’ll go into more detail on why in a moment.
While a rash may not seem like too bad of a symptom, excess folic acid can come with more severe symptoms such as epilepsy, an increased risk of prostate cancer and colorectal tumors. You see the enzyme needed to convert folic acid into a usable form in the body can be slow or ineffective causing unmetabolized folic acid to build up in ones tissues and plasma.
To make matters worse excess folic acid can hide a deficiency in vitamin B12. If you are deficient in B12 for too long it can lead to neurological changes, anemia, fatigue, and even nerve damage.
How Should You Use Folic Acid
Using the terms folate and folic acid interchangeably gets confusing (try to think of it as folate is natural, folic acid is synthetic). It is recommended you get most of your folate from whole food sources like fruits, vegetables and meat. Food sources of folate also contain many other essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
Supplementation comes into play when you are not getting enough folate from foods or your body has trouble absorbing it into a usable form. Most adults need 400 mcg a day, however pregnant women (or those trying to get pregnant) need a higher dose around 600 mcg a day.
We hinted at it before, but choosing the right kind of folate is important as well. Many prenatal vitamins contain the artificial form folic acid, which often times the body cannot convert into a usable form. The bioactive form l-methylfolate or simply methylfolate avoids many of the risks of taking too much of the synthetic folic acid.
This quick video shows a bit more on why folate is preferred over folic acid.