The day after my little guy was born, I was sitting on the couch trying to improve his latch and in my oxytocin-induced la la land thought, ‘hmm I ate well with him, took a food-derived prenatal, and had good nutrition prior to conception. Why does he seem to have a slight tongue tie (midline defect)?’
Yes, these are the places my sleep-deprived mind wanders to. Us GAPS moms have nutrition on the brain under most circumstances.
I kept the tongue tie and midline defect in the back of my brain to look into later, but I wasn’t overly concerned because this baby is developing completely on track, has a great immune system, and is growing as expected. The tongue tie has prevented him from ever having a *great* latch, but we figured out nursing positions that help, and he’s been able to get plenty and I don’t have pain.
A few months later another GAPS mom (her blog is here) emailed me explaining how important folate and the B vitamins are for ‘families that have leaky gut (read more)‘ and recommended a multivitamin that contained folate rather than folic acid. I tried it and was immediately thrilled with the extra energy (I posted about that back here).
When energy is boosted from a supplement, it usually means that a particular nutrient was missing from our diet, or was present in an unusable form. In this case, that was folate.
Why folate and not folic acid?
Folic acid is an inexpensive synthetic version of the water-soluble B9 (folate). Some people possess the enzymes needed to get folic acid to do what natural folate does in the body. Some people can turn folic acid into folate at a much reduced rate (source), which puts them at a deficiency even though they are consuming a significant amount of folic acid. The deficiency may not be low enough to cause neural tube defects, but it may present in other ways such as growth trouble, tongue tie, and neurological problems.
Even when people can digest folic acid, there are new studies coming out showing that over consumption of the form folic acid (not natural folate) can actually turn off the ability to absorb it- even if these people do not have the MTHFR gene mutation. (source)
Why is folic acid in so many foods?
In 1998 in the US it was mandated that grains be fortified with folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects (spina bifida is the most commonly known). Even people with the MTHFR gene mutation can metabolize some of the folic acid, and since the standard american diet is so deficient in dark leafy greens, liver, and other foods that contain natural folate, this was an improvement and did reduce the risk of neural tube defects in unborn children (source).
What does MTHFR have to do with this?
When we have the MTHFR gene mutation, either in one gene or both, we experience a loss of the enzyme in the liver needed to turn folic acid into folate for the body to use.
Folate, vitamin B9, is used in the body for many things including detoxification, growth, energy, muscle building, brain function, and more (source).
What does this have to do with tongue ties?
Tongue tie is a midline defect. I know, it’s hard to talk about our children (or ourselves) having a defects. But down the center of the body seems to be where many nutritional deficiencies show up. This can be anything from a cleft lip, to tongue tie, to spina bifida, to neurlogical problems.
Midline defects are what Weston A Price looked at primarily in his work.
For more information on lip and tongue ties, Mommypotamus talks about them, and how they impact the nursing relationship, here.
How could this be part of the increase in autism spectrum disorders?
Studies have shown that folic acid (source, source) supplementation may lower the risk of autism. When the family has the MTHFR gene mutation, they are unable to process folic acid and the baby is getting a much reduced amount of folate.
What foods naturally have folate in them?
Folate is present in foods – this is great news! We’re not dependent on a supplement (I tend to be skeptical of people who claim that we need to be) if we’re consuming these foods regularly. (these are some of the foods that contain high amounts of folate)
Some daily folate recommendations: (source)
- 6-12 mo: 65 mcg
- 4-8 years: 200 mcg
- Adult women: 400 mcg
- Adult women, pregnant: 600 mcg
Amount of folate per 100 g as per nutritiondata.self.com
- Seaweed, agar – 1010 mcg
- Leeks – 366 mcg
- Sweet green peppers – 229 mcg
- Spinach, raw, 194 mcg
- Sunflower seed kernals, toasted, 238 mcg
- Duck liver – 738 mcg
- Chicken liver – 588 mcg
- Beef liver – 290 mcg
Why is folic acid so bad?
Folic acid is bad for people who can’t process it because it ‘plugs’ the receptors on cells that need real folate, causing the body to not be able to access the real folate that does come in through your diet.
This is especially hard because folic acid is added to so many foods. It’s not a matter of only consuming enough real folate, but for those with the MTHFR gene mutation, they also need to avoid folic acid in order to make sure their body can access the folate it needs.
How would GAPS help this?
When we start GAPS, we are encouraged to stop all supplements,so we wouldn’t be getting folic acid that way. We also don’t consume processed food, which is often fortified with folic acid, so it’s not in our diet there either. We eat leafy greens and liver, which are high in natural folate.
What supplements do you recommend?
Amazon is out of the multivitamin that I started with, so last time I ordered these two instead. I’m using Active B12 for the kids (it was making me overly emotional, I’m going to try again after the holidays when my stress is lower) and L-5-MTHF for me, which gets passed to my breastfeeding baby as well. I had a couple moms tell me about prenatals that contain folate rather than folic acid: Garden of Life Baby and Me (this one also contains red raspberry leaf, which I do not use in early pregnancy due to cramping)
I also use a multivitamin for my family that uses mythlated Bs. You can see more about that here.
“I don’t believe in this, I believe in XYZ”
I get that kind of statement pretty much any time I mention autism. That’s okay, you don’t have to believe me. This post is for parents who are interested in learning more about folic acid and how it possibly could be tied to autism. I’m not judging how you feed your family or what supplements you take, we’re all at different places and all have different priorities and that doesn’t make either of us wrong. It seems that the more I learn, the more I’m sure I know very very little about autism and health in general. I’m still going to keep reading, trying, and sharing what works for us and what doesn’t.
Ack! I’m pregnant! And I’ve been taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid!
I know, there’s so much to think about when you’re pregnant, isn’t there? I recommend checking with your care provider and see if a multivitamin containing folate rather than folic acid is acceptable to them. Obligatory reminder: I am a mom, not a healthcare professional. I write about what I do with my own family, but I am absolutely unqualified to offer any medical or nutritional advice. Please seek the assistance of a qualified professional.
If you liked this you will love my new e-book, The Empowered Mother, where I raise questions like this (we also talk about where to get the most absorbable iron if you need to supplement that, as well as hundreds of other topics like this). Even if you don’t want to buy the e-book, I feel this information is so important to get out that I’ve made my resource page public here. You can go through week-by-week (the page is currently in progress) and check out the different sources I’ve used and use them to ask different questions and research further. Click here for The Empowered Mother!
Want to learn more?
- Chris Kresser talks about folate vs folic acid and describes the metabolism differences here.
- Sean Croxton (my long-time favorite health podcaster!) has an interview about MTHFR and folate here that I just listened to and prompted me to get this post up NOW in hopes of helping families sooner rather than later.
- Dr. Lynch has tons of information that I’m just getting started on reading, but I can’t wait to read more. Start here.
- The MTHFR-Autism Connection.
- Yes to multivitamins! (even if you have a healthy diet)
- We need to choose our vitamins carefully!
- Folic acid is hiding- here’s where.
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