It is in the fine print

Have you ever read the fine print outlining the safe upper limit for folic acid intakes? Like many others in your situation, we’d hazard a guess that the answer is no.

Take a deep breath. The Australian and New Zealand Government Nutrient Reference Values warn that “High supplemental intakes of folic acid have been shown to be related to adverse neurological effects in people with B12 deficiency as they can precipitate or exacerbate the B12 deficiency (Israels & Wilkinson 1949, Schwartz et al 1950, Spies et al 1948, Will et al 1959). General toxicity (Hunter et al 1970), increased carcinogenesis (Selby et al 1989) and adverse reproductive and developmental effects have also been reported (Czeizel & Dudas 1992, Czeizel et al 1994, Holmes-Siedle et al 1992, Kirke et al 1992, Lawrence et al 1981, Mukerjee et al 1984, Smithells et al 1981, Vergel et al 1990, Wald et al 1991).”

If that all sounds a bit complicated, here’s the summary. Too much folic acid can harm both you and your baby.

It’s hard to reconcile when you’ve been trained to believe that folic acid is the answer to healthy fetal growth, but these are the facts.

So why are we in this situation?

There are a few challenges to outline here.

  1. Many people, including scientists and clinicians use the words folate and folic acid interchangeably. This is a huge barrier when trying to decipher what is really going on in the scientific literature.
  2. A general lack of education in nutrition amongst healthcare providers and pressures affecting the time available for these discussions, is a major factor. This means the folate/folic acid conversation is never properly covered in your routine appointments.
  3. Marketing. Plain and simple. The massive marketing spend from supplements companies spreads the message that our food system is no longer safe and that the nutrient content of our food is inferior. We are trained to think that you just can’t eat enough food to get all the folate you need, so you must supplement. 
  4. Above all else, there is an element of fear underpinning all of this. Fear of going against a national recommendation, a recommendation from the experts. We get it, we have it too. But the reality is no one actually knows. Science is far from perfect. It is flawed and biased and contradictory and left to the interpretation of people. People with motives, and incentives and all the fun things about being human. What isn’t flawed, biased or incentivised against you is mother nature. Mother nature has, and continues to, generously combine nutrients into foods that benefit each and every one of us. When all else fails, trust her.

Let’s be clear here. We don’t necessarily disagree with the evidence that our food system is in great trouble, but rather than bypassing those problems, and creating bandaid solutions, instead we wish to address the issue of the health of our earth, in particular its soil, and fix it. Together. Now. For our health and our future children's health.

Read our next blog to learn how you can meet your folate requirements with real food.

Written by

Dr Hayley Dickinson, PhD and Kendall Macdowell

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