Folate and Folic Acid, once absorbed by the body, do exactly the same thing. Both of these compounds are referred to as Vitamin B9. However, there are two major differences between Folate and Folic Acid. Folic Acid is the synthetic, or man-made, form of the nutrient, while Folate is the naturally occuring version. While in most cases when talking about a nutrient the natural occuring version is usually the better choice, in the case of Vitamin B9, Folic Acid is superior because it is much more easily absorbed into the body by the small intestines. You need to eat nearly ten times the amount of Folate as Folic Acid to have the same amount of the nutrient absorbed by the body. The naturally occuring Folate mainly comes from leafy vegetables and peas. Folic Acid, the synthetic version of Vitamin B9, is usually found as an additive to bread and cereals.
Vitamin B9, whether consumed as Folate or Folic Acid, is a vital vitamin that the body uses to create DNA and RNA. This makes Vitamin B9 a very important chemical when it comes to growth and development, as growth occurs when one cell divides into two cells. Each time this happens, the body is required to produce a second version of the DNA in the cells. Insuffiecient levels of Vitamin B9 will cause errors during the process of DNA duplication.
Because Vitamin B9 is so essential to cell division and growth, it follows that Folate and Folic Acid are vital during pregnancy, especially the first few months. Folic Acid is usually one of the first supplements recommended as soon as a woman finds out she is pregnant. Deficiencies in Vitamin B9 early in pregnancy often lead to birth defects and miscarriages. For this reason, it is important for women who want to become pregnant to make sure they are getting enough Folic Acid or Folate, as some very important development of the fetus occurs before the woman even knows she is pregnant.
Outside of pregnany, Vitamin B9 is important to normal health for a number of different reasons related to cell growth. Defiencies in Vitamin B9 will lead to slow growth in children as anemia. In adults, deficiencies in Folic Acid or Folate will lead to poor apetite, weight loss and headaches.
The only known problem associated with consuming too much Vitamin B9 is that it can sometimes hide the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause permanent nerve damage, so masking the early symptoms of the deficiency is a serious problem. Any individual who is taking excessive amount of Folic Acid should make sure they are getting their recommended daily allowance of B12.