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L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) is a tongue-twisting word more commonly known as the B-vitamin folate. It is the active form of folate. 1 The body must convert folate into L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate for it to be used by the body. This makes L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate a more absorbable form of folate, even for those unable to absorb this nutrient. 

What is Folate?

Folate (vitamin B-9) is an essential nutrient that serves many important functions in the body, including:

An image of foods containing L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate with text that reads B9.
  • Making red and white blood cells in bone marrow
  • Converting carbohydrates into energy
  • Producing DNA and RNA
  • Metabolizing amino acids
  • Supporting brain function and the nervous system 2, 3

Yet, folate is a common nutrient deficiency.

Reasons for Folate Deficiency

There are 4 main causes of folate deficiency:

  1. Diet. Not eating enough folate-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables and legumes, is one of the most common causes of folate deficiency. And even if you do eat enough folate-rich foods, folate is easily destroyed by heat. So, if you overcook your vegetables, you run the risk of destroying most or all of their folate content.
    An image of various green vegetables spelling out the word "diet."
  2. Disease. Certain diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and some types of cancer, can lead to folate deficiency.
    An image of a sad young woman sitting on a white sofa.
  3. Alcoholism. Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with folate absorption.
    An image of the silhouette of a man preparing to drink a beer with liquor bottles in the foreground.
  4. Genetics. Many people have a genetic polymorphism that prevents them from producing the MTHFR needed to absorb folate. (MTHFR converts into L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate).
    An image of eyeglasses above a notepad and ink pen with text that reads "genetics".

Symptoms of Folate Deficiency

Symptoms of folate deficiency vary and include:

  • Anemia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent illness due to poor immune function
  • Headaches
  • Mood disorders, such as depression and frequent irritability
  • Cognitive decline
  • Arrested brain development and birth defects of the fetus (if the mother is folate deficient)

Perhaps due to the ever-increasing aging population, scientists have been studying the effects of folate on the aging brain...and what they’ve discovered is astonishing.

In a study conducted by King’s College, researchers noted: 

“Within the wide spectrum of depressive disorders, a subgroup has been identified in which folate… [is] involved. With respect to dementia, there is evidence that folate deficiency may contribute to the cognitive impairment of the ageing brain… increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.”4

In another study conducted by Tufts University, researchers noted:

Cognitive decline and some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, are associated with lower folate levels. [And] Evidence for the role of folate in depression and dementia in the aged is increasing.”5

These are only two of the many studies that clearly show that to avoid age-related brain and memory problems, the need to get the proper amounts of folate cannot be overstated.

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1- Thorne Research. 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate. Alternative Medicine Review Volume 11, Number 4. 2006 .

2- Ware M. Why is folate good for you? MedicalNewsToday. Jun 26, 2018. Accessed Dec 1, 2020.

3- National Institutes of Health. Folate Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Update: Jun 3, 2020. Accessed Dec 1, 2020.

4- Reynolds EH. Folic acid, ageing, depression, and dementia. BMJ. 002;324(7352):1512-1515. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7352.1512

5- D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Folate and brain function in the elderly. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 Nov;7(6):659-64. doi: 10.1097/00075197-200411000-00011. PMID: 15534434.

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