You’ve probably heard that you need to be getting enough folic acid in your diet, especially when it comes to making sure enough gets into your developing child’s diet (despite the dietary habits of picky eaters and young children). What 5-MTHF is and what it does may feel completely foreign -- it kind of sounds like a science experiment and its name doesn’t make its function apparent.
Despite how intimidating it may sound, 5-MTHF is actually pretty simple. It’s merely another form of folate, and this form of supplementation may be even better for your body than the normal folic acid you’ll often find in an adult or children’s multivitamin.
What Does Folate Do?
While folate has special uses for treating anemia, treating blood disorders, and promoting a healthy pregnancy, everyone’s body needs a significant amount of folate to work properly.
Folate runs the body’s methylation cycle. The methylation cycle is responsible for cardiovascular and neurological health. It manages the body’s reproductive system and is crucial for the manufacture of DNA.
The body also uses folate to create the natural chemicals that regulate our moods and responses. Without folate, you cannot create epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, or melatonin. If you don’t make enough of these chemicals, you won’t be able to sleep properly or respond to stimuli -- you might even begin to feel your mood take a toll.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is one of the most popular supplement forms of folate, a necessary vitamin. Folate is used to treat anemia and help the body to create more red blood cells. It’s especially necessary for pregnant women, as their body requires more blood to supply a growing fetus.
What Does Folic Acid Do?
When you take folic acid, your body digests it. It breaks the folic acid into smaller pieces and uses it to supply the systems responsible for helping fetuses grow and generating more red blood cells.
Your body has to convert folic acid into something called 5-MTHF in order to be able to use it. As you digest folic acid, its potency is diminished. This means you’ll ultimately receive a lesser amount of the more useful 5-MTHF for every milligram of folic acid you ingest.
This is called the first pass effect. Anywhere between 10% to 20% of the folate you consume in the form of folic acid is destroyed by your digestive system. This means you’ll need to take more folic acid than you actually need in order to adequately supply your body with vitamin B9.
What is 5-MTHF?
L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, most easily abbreviated as 5-MTHF (sometimes L-5-MTHF), is a specific form of folate.
Folate, or vitamin B9, comes in many forms. 10-MTHF, dihydrofolate, tetrahydrofolate, and folic acid are all, in essence, the same thing. The label on a multivitamin will tell you what form of folate it contains.
Each form of folate contains what your body needs -- they merely deliver it in a different way.
What Does 5-MTHF Do?
5-MTHF is a metabolically active form of folate. This means that the human body knows how to use folate in this form. It’s more readily available, and it doesn’t need to be broken down by the body before it can be used.
Using highly bioavailable folate means that less folate will ultimately need to be consumed in order for adequate blood folate levels to be achieved.
Why is 5-MTHF Better Than Folic Acid?
Folic acid and 5-MTHF are both folate. They’re different forms of the same vitamin. The difference resides in their bioavailability.
Your body can use folic acid, but it has to work a lot harder. A significant portion of it will be lost in translation, and there’s simply no way around that. Your body has to prepare folic acid for use, and that will always generate a certain amount of natural waste.
5-MTHF is ready for your tissue exactly the way it comes. Your body doesn’t need to spend time, effort, and energy preparing this form of folate for use. This means less of the folate will be lost through digestion, and the folate can get to work quicker.
Many people prefer 5-MTHF to resolve folate deficiencies or to support a healthy pregnancy due to its high bioavailability and rapid onset.
The Importance of Folate for Children
Folate boosts the body’s ability for DNA and blood cell synthesis. Growing children are constantly increasing their cell production. Larger bodies require more blood. Growing internal organs need a wealth of new cells, and those cells will rapidly regenerate every day, so it's no wonder that a folate supplement is a good idea for growing kids.
Folate helps the body rapidly create these healthy cells that keep your child active, thriving, and growing.
Children also have a tendency to find germs just about everywhere. They’re constantly in close contact with each other and may not always be the best at washing their hands. All of this exposure to germs is a natural part of life, and it isn’t always highly dangerous if the body’s immune response is intact.
Folate is necessary for building a healthy immune response. The constant production and repair of DNA that folate facilitates can fortify the immune system against threats. Strong, healthy cells do a much better job at defending themselves against outside invaders.
Vitamin B12 and vitamin C can help to boost folate’s efficiency at fortifying the immune system.
Thankfully, our children’s multivitamin here at Hiya contains adequate amounts of both, not to mention 12 other essential nutrients to further support healthy development, growth, and immunity (without the junk and sugar you’ll find in most children's multis on the market today).
Both children and adults will benefit more from readily available 5-MTHF than they will from traditional folic acid supplements. It’s easier to be sure you’re supplementing an adequate amount of folate when you choose to take 5-MTHF over folic acid.
You’ll know that your body got the majority of the amount listed on the supplement, and you won’t have to overcompensate in an attempt to make up for the first pass effect.