Folate Part II: Folate Cofactors
Learn about the nutritional cofactors that support a healthy folate cycle.
Gene expression changes across the day to make things happen at the right times. This gene expression depends on a healthy folate cycle for methylation.
Today's post will cover the nutritional cofactors that support a healthy folate cycle.
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This follows up my recent post about how folate, or B9, affects circadian rhythms. In the first folate post, we learned:
Folate may come more from our guts (micro-biome) than our food
The folate cycle needs a strong light/dark cycle to function in it’s happy, circadian way (and the folate cycle in turn supports overall circadian epigenetic functioning)
Folate is part of at least 6 major processes that each need nutritional cofactors in addition to folate to complete their processes
The rest of this post will be about the necessary nutritional cofactors for folate to do it's work in the body. And then, stay tuned for the next post in the series which will cover the dangers of B vitamin supplementation from non-food sources. If you missed the first post and want to catch up, here's the link:
How to get the necessary folate cofactors from your diet.
Folate is important, but doesn’t work alone. So far, scientists have identified a number of cofactors that, if deficient, will impede folate ffrom its work in the body. These cofactors are alphabetically: the B vitamin spectrum, Choline, DHA, D3, Magnesium, Serine, and Zinc. There are probably more, but this is the most complete list I have found so far:
The B vitamins are so named because of their similar roles, not because they have similar makeup. All are water soluble, meaning they dissolve in water and excess B vitamins usually come out in urine. All work together to support cellular processes, including the Folate Cycle.
B vitamins come from plants, as most animals cannot synthesize them on their own. Animals sequester B vitamins and alter them from their plant-forms for animal metabolism. The most usable B vitamins come from unheated or gently-heated meat, dairy, and eggs. This is because the animals do a lot of the enzymatic work of making the plant B vitamins usable for humans. Also, high heat damages B vitamins.
Choline comes from dairy, eggs, fish, meat, organ meat, and to a lesser extent some grains and vegetables. Pregnant/lactating mothers have an increased need for choline. Vegetarians/vegans are almost always deficient. The microbiome determines if we can use the choline we consume. Thus, avoiding gut-disturbances is imperative to choline bioavailability. One week of choline deficiency can cause symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
DHA supports folate biochemical processes AND the microbiome, and much more. Thus, DHA is a big win for boosting the folate cycles! (Remember, folate from the microbiome is likely more reliable than folate from food.)
DHA comes from micro-algae, but it is much easier to get it from animals that sequester it from the food chain. The richest food sources are cold-water fish: anchovy, salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.
If you raise food, you can boost your family's DHA by feeding ocean byproducts (fish, algae) your animals. That way, the meat, eggs, and dairy of your animals will also contain DHA.
If concerned about availability, we should make sure the following groups get enough:
couples planning to conceive
pregnant and lactating mothers
children from baby-hood through the end of puberty
These groups have increased demand for DHA and the worst outcomes in cases of lack of DHA.
The body makes steroid hormone Vitamin D from cholesterol when exposed to UV light. It also comes from fish, pasture-based eggs, wild mushrooms, and organ meats. Most vitamin D foods contain cholesterol (the precursor to solar vitamin D), so a balance of the two forms is best.
This mineral comes in many forms. Food sources can contribute a max of 10% RDA. The rest is usually gained by mineral-rich water sources and good internal recycling. You can get magnesium supplements to add to your water if your local water source doesn't contain it.
To keep recycling active, avoid diuretics, sugar, and alcohol. Also avoid foods containing phytic acid (un-soured whole grains and un-sprouted seeds/nuts). Phytic acid not only lowers magnesium, but also zinc, iron, and calcium. Finally, if you take any pharmaceuticals, check with your pharmacist. Many drugs interfere with magnesium metabolism and magnesium-dependent processes, like the folate cycle. In some cases, alternatives to medication or alternative medications may be available.
Serine is an amino acid. These days, scientists classify amino acids three ways: essential, non-essential, and conditionally-essential. The body can make serine on its own, so in the past, nutritionists called it "non-essential". It turns out, not everyone can make adequate amounts of serine. Eating a serine-rich diet may also provide specific benefits a low-serine diet may not. So, serine and other once "non-essential" amino acids are quietly moving into the third camp:
You get serine from most high-protein foods, whether vegetable or animal.
The mineral zinc is easily absorbed, yet the body keeps levels at a safe threshold no matter how much you eat. But, phytates in food impair zinc. To have healthy zinc levels, you can't eat a lot of un-sprouted whole grains and seeds. If you do, the phytates will block the zinc. Variability between amount ingested and amount absorbed is 80% due to phytates. Thus, eating animal-based zinc while avoiding phytate-rich foods gives the most zinc. Zinc exists in plenty in land and sea-based meats.
Some tasty recipes that check all these boxes include:
Eggs are delicious raw in eggnog, fried, poached, and boiled. Pasture-raised eggs have the best flavor and nutrient profile.
Wild mushroom recipes
Delicious fried with butter and salt. Wild mushrooms have naturally-occurring vitamin D2 because they grow under sunlight.
Delicious fried, baked, poached, in soup, and in casseroles.
Delicious boiled with salt and dipped in tangy sauce or layered on a salad, and in soup.
Delicious raw or fried in butter with lemon and salt.
Delicious as pate or gently sautéed in butter with salt. Some people soak liver in either milk or lemon juice to make the flavor and texture more palatable.
Beef and Lamb recipes
Delicious in a variety of ways, with great recipes available from all around the world. Pasture-based animals are most sustainable for the land and healthiest for humans.
All folate-supporting recipes
Gentle cooking preserves the taste, texture, and nutritional profile in all cases. Many of these nutrients, like folate itself, also degrade under high-heat. Anti-nutrients, especially phytic acid or phytates, block absorption of many of these nutrients. Getting enough of pro-folate nutrients means avoiding whole grains and seeds unless you know how to sprout and sour them to neutralize those acids. Alcohol, diuretics, and sugar cause many of these nutrients to be flushed out. Avoiding those three “food” groups (alcohol, duiretics, sugar) helps your body retain and use these pro-folate foods after you have eaten them. Finally, if you take pharmaceuticals, check with your pharmacists. Many pharmaceutical products interfere with nutrient absorption, but have alternatives that do not.
Do you have any favorite recipes for these pro-folate foods? Please share in the comments!
TLDR for Folate Cofactors:
Folate, the spinach-is-not-really-the-best-source-of-it, pro-circadian nutrient depends on:
light/dark cycle aligning to solar time
a variety of healthy animal products in diet
avoiding un-sprouted whole grains and seeds, alcohol, diuretics, and sugar
It turns out, there can be consequences of too much folate, as well! Cancer anyone?? Yikes. Stay tuned for the third post in this series! It will cover B-vitamin supplement risks and the medical use of anti-folate drugs.