Everyone with a health blog seems to know the same facts about folic acid:
1. It's GREAT for pregnant women!
2. 400mcg is the amount to take! 400. 400. 400! Look it up, that's the number you'll see EVERYwhere.
3. A deficiency can cause anemia.
Thanks, every health website out there! But WHY are we not informing readers about DFE and the unconscionable dangers of not knowing the difference between folic acid and Folate? (Rhetorical Answer: Because no one knows about these things.)
It's Worth Learning! I Promise!
Folate was first discovered in 1931 by Dr. Lucy Wills. Since then, it has suffered the same unfortunate fate of many vitamins and minerals.
Compounds that can be taken in pill form are like newly discovered islands. First, an explorer must venture out hoping to find something no one else has ever documented. Then, the discovery is confirmed and the potential benefits of the new object are reviewed.
Then, the real fun begins. Countries (in this case, corporations) ask the question they have always asked, "How can this benefit us?"
In the case of Folate, the answer is extensive and no one knows about it. In fact, I feel that I hold a monopoly on this coveted information and, like the researchers and adventurers before me, I am going to share my findings freely.
Folic Acid and Folate
This is where I tell you about the differences between the two essential compounds like how folic acid is artificial and harmful to our bodies because it is inefficient and blocks Folate in the cells (in 30% of the population) while Folate is natural and perfectly designed to work with our bodies. ENOUGH SCIENCE...
How Do You Get Folate?.. I Mean Folic Acid? Wait...
You may already be aware that much of our food is fortified with folic acid because of a mandatory order in 1998: "In the United States, bread, cereal, flour, cornmeal, pasta, rice, and other grain products are fortified with folic acid" (National Institute of Health).
We are required to consume folic acid because once upon a time there was an epidemic of Folate deficiency. (Nowadays, when the country is deficient of a vitamin, Dr. Oz just promotes the heck out of it and then tells you about a dangerous herb that will help you lose weight. Now, that's what I call progress!)
The good news is that folic acid helped end the deficiency... well... it worked if you isolate one disease in a small population and ignore everything else.
The story does not stop there.
Folic Acid is a synthetic compound... So WHO MAKES IT??
Mostly China (of course!). Now, let's look at some NUMBERS.
The United States uses about 30% of the world's supply of folic acid (the synthetic one). This means that, of the 2000 metric tons of folic acid that are distributed around the world, the U.S. uses about 600.
Owing to the fact that the EPA shut down four out of the five folic acid manufacturing plants in China, the cost of folic acid went up by about 2000% (from $20.00 to over $400.00) in 2015 and has since settled to about 60.00 USD per kg.
After some simple math, we find that in the United States, companies are spending roughly $30,000,000.00 (thirty million) a year to enhance food with this one simple chemical. Keep in mind that folic acid is just one of many compounds with which our foods are being fortified and that cost is passed down to us, the consumers.
While the intentions behind force-feeding us folic acid were pure, we must consider that this is perhaps the worst way to supply our country with Folate. By definition, shoving folic acid into all our food does not give us Folate. Instead, it gives us fake Folate that is causing a plethora of new and unexpected problems (we'll get in that later).
It was a good short term solution that should have lasted a year or two while they worked on a way to get real Folate into our bodies. Hmm... Just thinking on-the-spot, they could... I don't know... put Folate into our food instead of folic acid? (Folate is only more expensive because folic acid is the fast food of vitamins and because there is a bigger demand for it.)
THE PLOT THICKENS
Folic acid, less commonly known as PTEROYLGLUTAMIC, is created using complex laboratory procedures involving several strains of bacteria. Earlier, I mentioned something about the EPA and Chinese factories being shut down. Well, what the heck is happening in these Chinese manufacturing plants that required 80% of them to be shut down? Why were they allowed to put an ingredient into our foods?
Perhaps we have strange Chinese bacteria in our blood! (That's a joke... sort of.) Could this, combined with the toxic nature of folic acid, explain the declining life expectancy, rise of autism and cancer, and the long list of new auto-immune disorders? Folate plays an important role in creating and repairing our DNA and folic acid blocks Folate so... yes?
WHAT ARE WE EATING and WHY are we STILL eating it!?
If you haven't caught on to what I am saying, please allow me to put it a different way. Imagine that there was a nationwide car tire shortage and so the government began handing out flimsy plastic tires from China. Great! We all get tires for our cars!
Now fast forward twenty years. Do you want real tires? Well, too bad! Our government has a good thing going with China so stay out of it (silly citizens).
Folic acid was an okay quick-fix but we need Folate. Folate was the goal. Folic acid is what we got... and they are still forcing it into our bodies.
Side Bar 1: As an easy comparison, at least when they put iodine into salt, it was
a) not mandatory and
b) actually iodine.
Side Bar 2: Isn't this just one step closer to the government making our food for us? If you think about it, Wal-Mart is a government contracted company and millions of Americans buy 'Great Value Wal-Mart Brand' food... soo...
OKAY. So what does this have to do with SUPPLEMENTS?
DFE! Dishonest Folate Explanation. No wait, that's not it...
DIETARY FOLATE EQUIVALENT (DFE)
Dietary Folate Equivalent is a complete mystery to all but a handful of people. I know this because my article on "DFE," which has less than five views, is on the front page of Google when you look up "DFE in supplements." It takes several hours of digging to find even the slightest bit of information on this illusive topic (about which no one cares other than me but you should care...).
When you Google "DFE," you get the Department for Education (DfE) followed by the EPA's "Design for the Environment" (DfE) but nothing about Dietary Folate Equivalent.
Who created the DFE?
The Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences? They keep changing their darn name.) has their non-governmental hands in the FDA, the EPA, and even the DfE and the DoE and DFE.
Confused? I think that's their goal. Let's slow it down a little.
We will ignore China, the effects of folic acid, and the Institute of Academy Medicine Sciences (that's their name now, right?) for now and focus on what DFE actually is.
Simply put, DFE is a term supplement companies use on their labeling.
Here is a snapshot of "One A Day's" Women's multivitamin.
Do you see that sweet, sweet Folate in the supplement facts? Now look immediately to the right of "Folate" to find "666 mcg DFE." In the ingredients list, you'll see "Folic Acid."
Take a good look at the items I highlighted. The label above is designed to be as clear as possible (supposedly). I challenge you to take a minute to determine whether the multivitamin has Folate or folic acid and THEN determine how many milligrams it has.
Which one is true!?
The product (like every mainstream product in the world), has folic acid in it and not Folate. Look underneath the "666 mcg DFE." Just below that friendly number is the shocking truth!
If you guessed 400 mcg folic acid, then you win!
Bonus Fact: The first two ingredients are chalk dust and wood pulp! Welcome to the mysterious world of multivitamins!
Why is it so confusing!?
The average health-minded-multivitamin-shopper is only going to see 'Folate' and assume the labeling is honest.
When I see 'Folate' in a product, my respect for the company skyrockets because they did not settle for the cheap Chinese knock-off (folic acid). With DFE, I have to look a little closer at every product (how inconvenient!).
Honestly, this entire "DFE" thing makes no sense other than in the context of 'Greed' and 'Corporate Interest.' The "666" is there to communicate that by taking 400 mcg of folic acid, you are taking the equivalent of 666 mcg of Folate.
I imagine this part is quite boring but just think of all the people to whom you can tell this exclusive information!
Typically, a change in labeling regulations comes with a heavy pile of documentation. With DFE, there are merely a few inaccessible essays. 666 mcg was decided as the number because of a single study hidden within the depths of the National Institute of Sciences... Medicine... website.
But... I guess we have to ignore that study because the US Government's National Institute of Health tells us that the appropriate number by which to multiply 400 mcg folic acid is 1.7.
In other words, 1folic acid = 1.7Folate.
400folic acid therefore equals 680Folate. Alas, we somehow reached 666 on all labels who choose to use "DFE." Great job, government! You managed to confuse even the math of your own ridiculous concept!
Anyway, the equation is misleading because it only refers to how much folic acid is absorbed into the body and NOT how much is used by the body. Consider that folic acid blocks Folate absorption... so, if "DFE" was accurate, it would be -0.03folic acid = 1Folate. Using this expertly crafted equation, we find that there is exactly -12Folate in pills containing 400 mcg folic acid.
Confused? That's okay, it is impossible not to be confused about this. It is all utter madness. Just remember: Folic acid is a lie. Take Folate in the form of methyl folate (I don't sell it, I'm just humbly passionate about honesty and high quality).
An Abrupt Conclusion
It wasn't enough to require us to eat folic acid, they also allowed it to be bought from factories so bad that they were eventually shutdown and then they decided supplement companies can lie about putting this toxic chemical into our products. Thanks, Gov!
While it is impossible to avoid folic acid in foods, it is possible to not take cheap supplements.
If you currently take mainstream multivitamins, you are getting -12 mcg Folate. Do you want the science for this ridiculous claim? Well, I want the science behind DFE but we are all going to have to live without it. Oh, and if you find yourself wanting to take pills containing folic acid, just remember: Folic acid is created from bacteria in low-grade Chinese factories. :)