Fertility · Nutrition · Pregnancy

Green Tea Before and During Pregnancy: Folate Absorption

Green tea has been hailed as a health drink for its antioxidants and a fantastic coffee substitute because of its lower caffeine content. It’s also been said that green tea can improve your chances of conceiving as it helps to increase cervical mucus. There is a very important side of green tea, though, that may make you think twice about downing loads of it in the name of conceiving.

Even though green tea provides plenty of antioxidants, one of them, known as catechin, can actually inhibit the absorption of folate, or folic acid. (Although folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same thing. Folate is the natural form of the B vitamin, while folic acid is the synthetic version.) Folate, found in foods like dark leafy greens, is an important B vitamin that plays a critical part in preventing neural tube defects in a developing fetus.

“Studies in pregnant women have found that higher levels of tea consumption were associated with lower serum folate concentrations (; ). Because periconceptional folic acid intake reduces the risk of neural tube defects (; ; ), tea consumption may put pregnant women at risk because of its possible antifolate properties. The three studies that have examined tea intake have found that the risk of neural tube defects as increased for tea drinkers compared with nondrinkers (; ; ).” [source]

How does green tea inhibit folate absorption?

As mentioned above, green tea contains a type of antioxidants called catechins. These are known more commonly as EGCG, EGC, ECG, or EC. Catechins can be very beneficial for health, as they’ve been said to have anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting properties. This antioxidant has been shown to interfere with proper absorption of folate by inhibiting a certain enzyme, known as dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). This DHFR has the job of converting the inactive form of folate into the active (usable) form. If this enzyme is blocked by something, it can’t do its job of conversion, allowing for the development of a possible folate deficiency.

This is important to know, particularly prior to pregnancy and the first trimester because folate is essential in preventing neural tube defects. The neural tube develops very early on in pregnancy, between weeks 4 and 6. Most women are not even aware of a pregnancy until between weeks 4 and 8. It’s highly recommended to have sufficient availability of folate prior to conception to help ensure proper neural tube development. If beverages with catechins are consumed in excess during this time, it’s possible that defects may result.

What else inhibits folate absorption?

Green tea has one of the highest levels of catechins, but other teas contain this antioxidant as well. Limit consumption of black tea, red tea, oolong tea, and white tea during this stage of life.

Kombucha, another health drink, known for its probiotic supply for gut health, is made with black or green tea. Even by the end of the fermentation process, catechins are still present. To err on the side of caution, it’s best to limit consumption of kombucha during this time.

Alcohol and smoking can block proper folate absorption. Both of these can also impair the transport of any present folate to the fetus.

Foods with natural folate

Folate is often found in prenatal vitamins in the synthetic form, folic acid. For many women, particularly those with the MTHFR gene mutation (and many are unaware they have this), converting folic acid to a usable form is a difficult process. To help ensure folate is coming in, find it in foods in addition to a whole food prenatal supplement. (My favorite prenatal vitamins can be found on my Shop page.)

  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • Lentils
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Broccoli
  • Liver
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Beets

What to Drink Instead

Try some warm lemon water with fresh peeled ginger, and raw honey for a totally natural and caffeine free warm beverage.

Rooibus tea does not contain catechins (or caffeine) and may be a good choice in place of green tea.

If you happen to be trying to conceive or newly pregnant, and drink 1-2 cups of green tea on a fairly regular basis, it may be beneficial to reduce that or avoid it completely for this stage of life. If you choose to continue to drink green tea, space it out away from a meal and vitamins, by at least two hours, or as close to that as possible at a minimum. Be sure to consume plenty of folate-rich foods such as those listed above and take a daily prenatal vitamin, with at least 800mcg in it.

Be sure to check back for other editions about limiting green tea.

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