What is Folic Acid?
Folate is a member of the B vitamin (B9) family, a water-soluble vitamin involved in many chemical processes in the body. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.
Folate is essential for the production of red and white blood cells and other important cells that help to convert food into energy and make DNA. Folate also plays an important role in the reproductive tract and is needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
The body cannot create folate on its own so we must obtain it through our diet or supplementation. Research on HPV has begun to highlight a strong association between folate deficiency and cervical dysplasia, emphasizing the importance of incorporating more folate-rich foods into your diet as well as taking a quality supplement.
Folate versus Folic Acid
Folate differs from folic acid in the way that the vitamin gets converted in the digestive tract. Folate is immediately converted into the active form of vitamin B9, called 5-methyl-THF (5-MTHF). Folic Acid enters the bloodstream and passes through the liver and other tissues in order to be converted.
Folic acid is thought to be better absorbed, however, it is metabolized at a slower rate, which means more can accumulate and linger in the system and may lead to excess. Folate, on the other hand, will be excreted if too much is consumed.
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Folate plays a critical role in your body so when it is lacking, it can lead to suboptimal health but it isn’t always easy to know when you are low in vitamin B9. Some symptoms include unexplained fatigue, anemia, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, difficulty focusing, brain fog, headaches, and heart palpitations.
Deficiencies in folate can cause megaloblastic anemia, which is when your blood cells form in an improper shape. This hinders their ability to function correctly in your body. Folate is especially important for pregnant women, as deficiencies can cause neural tube defects in a growing fetus.
Folate and Methylation
Without folate, the body has trouble maintaining methylation. Methylation is a biochemical process that helps support cardiovascular, neurological, and reproductive health.
The cycle of methylation begins with a methyl group (one carbon and three hydrogen molecules) converting amino acid, methionine into S’Adenosylmethionine (SAM-e). Once converted into SAM-e, this molecule travels through the body transferring methyl groups to other bodily systems. SAM-e Is finally converted to the amino acid homocysteine, which creates the antioxidant glutathione.
A deficiency in folate or B12 impairs the final stage of methylation, leading to elevated levels of homocysteine. Too much homocysteine increases the risk of heart disease and blood clots.
Methylation also regulates our genes, turning them on or off. One of the ways cancer develops is through impaired gene regulation. Not having enough folate can impair the body’s ability to regulate cell growth and increase susceptibility to cervical cancer.
MTHFR Gene Mutations
Some people have a genetic mutation that prevents them from properly converting dietary folate into its active form (5-MTHF). This mutation may explain why women with healthy diets and lifestyles struggle to clear the infection, while others who smoke and eat poorly can eliminate the infection with no problem.
Individuals with the MTHFR mutation have an increased risk of several diseases including heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Supplementing with the active form of folate (folic acid or methylated folate) can be beneficial for those with the mutation.
Methylation is also impacted by diet in general. Studies have found the degree of methylation in the body to correlate with the volume of fruit and vegetables participants consumed. The findings suggest that dietary modifications to include more folate in the diet can reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia.
Benefits of Folic Acid
The average adult is recommended to take 400mcg of folate daily. Although folate is best known for preventing neural tube defects in fetuses, new research is showing its benefits in cancer prevention including breast, bladder, cervical, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.
Because folate is involved in reducing homocysteine, folate intake can influence heart disease. Recent research is showing benefits in reducing the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and depression.
Food Sources of Folate
We recommend aiming for your daily dose of folate from food, before supplementing. Food sources of folate include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (i.e. kale, spinach),
- Black-eyed peas,
- Brussels sprouts,
- Green peas,
- Fortified Grains*.
*Because of the utmost importance of folate adequacy, the Canadian government, along with other governments have mandated folate fortification to many grains, like breakfast cereals, white flour, and pastas.
Folic Acid’s Role in HPV Management
Folate is one of several key nutrients that have been studied in relation to HPV.
Folate’s role in HPV is likely related to the methylation cycle mentioned above, which ensures your genes function normally.
Current research has highlighted the relationship between low levels of folate in the blood and high-risk HPV infection through the promotion of cervical dysplasia development.
Studies have found that individuals with a folate deficiency have an increased risk of positive HPV status, as well as an increased risk of progression to cervical and oral cancer. Whereas women with higher plasma folate and B12 levels with HPV-16 positivity were 60-75% less likely to be diagnosed with moderate cervical dysplasia.
There has been extensive research on the role of folate in HPV. We highlighted some key research below:
- A 2003 study by Hernandez et al. showed that women with the highest levels of blood folate levels from either food or supplements have lower rates of cervical dysplasia from HPV.
- A 2016 case-control study by Zhao et al. that included 271 controls and 214 women with both high and low-grade HPV lesions, found that low blood folate levels in women were coupled with a higher risk of cervical cancer from HPV.
- A large analysis of studies, or a meta-analysis, showed an increased risk of cervical cancer among Asian populations with low blood folate levels.
- A study by Bai et al. showed that a folate deficiency was associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) in subjects who were HPV 16 positive.
- In an Indian population, improving folate and vitamin B12 status may have a beneficial impact on the prevention of cervical cancer.
Scientific evidence shows that folic acid likely plays a protective role in HPV progression to cervical cancer.
Folate is one of the many key protective nutrients in Papillex. A daily serving of Papillex contains the equivalent of 5 ounces of poultry liver, 4 cups of chickpeas, or 40 spears of asparagus.
Should I Supplement Folic Acid?
It is estimated that 5 to 40 percent of the female population has a folate deficiency globally.
Ideally, we would obtain our folate from food sources like dark leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seafood. However, it can be difficult to get the recommended amount of folate from food alone. As mentioned, a person’s genetics may also make it difficult to convert dietary folate into its active form.
Folic acid supplementation of 400mcg per day is safe. The highest level of daily intake of folate that poses no risk of adverse health effects was set at 1,000 micrograms per day. Folic acid is also a water-soluble vitamin and does not accumulate in fat tissue. Therefore, excess intake will be excreted into the urine and out of the body.
Supplementation with folic acid is often recommended for pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects and prevent megaloblastic anemia.
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Supporting HPV Naturally
Many doctors choose to implore a “watch and wait” tactic, as it is difficult to begin treatment without further progression of abnormal cells. Some people wait years before seeing this progression, and most surgical interventions do not have an immense effect on the early stages of cell changes.
Even if you eat the healthiest possible diet, you may still have several nutritional deficiencies which can harm the health of your immune system. This is why in addition to a diet high in richly pigmented fruits and vegetables, it’s important to supplement your diet with clinically supported nutritional supplements.
Papillex is a compound that contains high-quality, natural sources of nutrients that have been shown to support beneficial results in eliminating HPV infections. It contains ingredients that nutritionally support the immune system which will help the body to better respond to genital warts, cervical dysplasia, and other HPV-related disorders naturally.