The role of folate for optimal infant development
The B-vitamin folate is an essential nutrient needed for optimal cell division, tissue growth and cognitive development. Therefore it is particulary important during the period of rapid growth and development in early life.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate which does not occur in nature and is only found in foods fortified with folic acid. Currently, folic acid is the only folate source approved for use in infant formula and follow-on formula. In breast milk, the predominant form of folate is MTHF, an active form of folate. Folic acid on the other hand needs to be activated in the body. Depending on the genotype, not everybody is able to do this efficienty.1
Generally folic acid is metabolized to MTHF in the enterocytes in the gut lining. At higher intakes, this mechanism is overloaded and folic acid enters the plasma unmetabolized.2 Unmetabolized folic acid is not present in breast milk, unless maternal intakes via supplements or fortified foods are high. It is important to consider the genetic differences in ability to metabolize folic acid, which may decrease the availability of active folate.
MTHF provides a more natural solution for infant and follow-on formula, and a new study has been published that investigated the safety and suitability of using MTHF as source of folate.3