Can taking folate can ease menopause symptoms?
Although folate is perhaps best known as being vital for women during pregnancy, it is also necessary for older women.
Hot flashes are sensations of heat, sweating, and flushing that are accompanied with anxiety. Hot flashes are usually most intense over the face, neck and chest, and are the most characteristic and frequent symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. They are experienced by up to 75% of menopausal women and are often a cause of stress and severe discomfort, especially at night when night sweats can disrupt sleep and lead to insomnia.
Half of all women experiencing hot flashes have symptoms so severe that they seek medical advice. In fact, hot flashes are the most common reason that women seek medical treatment during menopause.
Although hot flashes are not life threatening, the experience can be painful and unpleasant, and can lead to other symptoms and complications including anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory and concentration problems, and lowered libido.
Menopause, HRT, and folate
While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment for hot flashes, its rate of use has decreased in recent decades, after studies by the American Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) linked hormone therapy with an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
Other less severe side effects of HRT include bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, and mood swings.
Active folate is an essential cofactor for the production of two important hormones in our body known as norepinephrine and serotonin. Studies have shown that taking folic acid has effects similar to that of SNRI antidepressants, which are a common alternative treatment to HRT and also work by affecting levels of norepinephrine and serotonin.
In fact, studies show a relationship between folate intake and decreases in depression, improved behavioural characteristics, protection against cognitive impairment, decrease in serum homocysteine concentrations.
A clinical study of folic acid therapy on menopausal hot flashes found a 65% improvement in hot flashes in otherwise healthy menopausal women taking folic acid, compared to a 16% improvement in symptoms in those given a placebo. The research recommended folate as an affordable, safe, and acceptable method to help lower hot flashes for women.
A further trial of 70 menopausal women also indicated that folic acid was effective in reducing the severity, duration, and frequency of hot flashes during menopause.
Folate vs folic acid
While often used interchangeably, folic acid and folate are not the same. Folic acid is the inactive precursor to active folate, and is used in many supplements and fortified foods.
However, to become biologically active folic acid needs to go through multiple transformations in our body. These conversion steps change the inactive folic acid into active folate – which is known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).
New research has shown that not everybody can convert folic acid to active folate in the same way – meaning that taking supplements containing folic acid can be ineffective for some people.
These people have a certain genetic trait known as a MTHFR polymorphism, which means they cannot produce enough of the enzyme that helps convert folic acid into active 5-MTHF folate. The type of MTHFR gene we have has even been suggested to play a role in influencing the onset of menopause.
Because they cannot convert folic acid into active folate, people with MTHFR polymorphism have been shown to lack adequate levels of active folate. By providing the natural and bioactive dose of folate directly, without the need for metabolization or enzymes like MTHFR, Quatrefolic® is immediately available for use in the body and may help tackle the hot flashes related to menopause by targeting similar pathways to SNRI antidepressants.