Folate vs. Folic Acid - What's The Difference?

This post was written by Rochelle Louis - a senior at Boston University working towards becoming a Registered Dietitian with the long-term goal of making healthy, plant-based food and nutrition more accessible and affordable. If you have any questions about nutrition for pregnancy, or concerns about your supplements, feel free to contact Jennifer for a nutrition consultation, or speak with your doctor.


Folic acid and folate are two forms of vitamin B9. The two names are sometimes used interchangeably. It is important to note the difference between the two forms because they can have different effects on the body.

What is Vitamin B9?

Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient that is naturally found as folate. Vitamin B9 is “essential” because it plays many important roles in the body.

  • Formation of DNA, the body’s genetic material.

  • Helps in cell growth.

  • Aids the body in the utilization of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

  • Maintains the proper functioning of the heart.

A deficiency in vitamin B9 can cause:

  • Birth Defects - Poor levels of folate in pregnant women can cause neural tube defects and congenital health defects in infants.

  • Heart Disease - Low levels of vitamin B9 can result in elevated concentrations of homocysteine which causes an increased risk of heart disease.


What is Folate?

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. The recommended daily intake of folate in the US is 400 mcg.  

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is the manufactured, synthetic version of vitamin B9 often found in fortified foods and supplements. Folic acid must first be converted to its active state to be absorbed by the body.

What Are The Concerns When Taking Supplements?

The main concern with folic acid supplements is their bioavailability, the amount of a substance that the body can actually absorb. The difference among prenatal supplements is the source of folic acid. Supplements may be in the form of folic acid or L-methylfolate, the bioavailable form of folic acid. The bioavailable form of folic acid becomes essential in people who have mutations in the MTHFR gene, the gene that converts folic acid to its bioavailable form L-methylfolate. Around 40-60% of the population has a genetic mutation in the MTHFR gene, making the conversion of folic acid to L-methylfolate inefficient.

People who have the MTHFR gene mutation or, those that have a history of Neural Tube Defects are recommended to take L-methylfolate supplements because the body can absorb this without needing to convert it to another form.

If you have concerns about your supplement, or would like to learn more about MTHFR, please consult your doctor or obstetrician.


  1. Greenberg, James A., and Stacey J. Bell. "Multivitamin Supplementation During Pregnancy: Emphasis on Folic Acid and L-Methylfolate." 2011.

  2. Patanwala, Imran, Maria J. King, David A. Barrett, John Rose, Ralph Jackson, Mark Hudson, Mark Philo, Jack R. Dainty, Anthony Ja Wright, Paul M. Finglas, and David E. Jones. "Folic Acid Handling by the Human Gut: Implications for Food Fortification and Supplementation." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 100, no. 2 (2014): 593-99. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.080507.