The natural diastereoisomer [6S]-5-methyltetrahydrofolate ([6S]-5-MTHF) may be a safer fortificant than folic acid for neural tube defect (NTD) prevention because it is unlikely to mask vitamin B-12 deficiency. An inverse relationship between NTD risk and blood folate concentrations has been reported. In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, we compared the effects of [6S]-5-MTHF and folic acid supplementation for 24 wk on plasma folate and red cell folate (RCF) in women of childbearing age (18-49 y). Women (n = 104) were randomly assigned to receive a supplement containing [6S]-5-MTHF (113 micro g/d), folic acid (100 micro g/d) or placebo. The mean estimated linear increase in plasma folate concentration was 0.3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.1, 0.5], and 0.4 (0.2, 0.6) nmol/(L. wk) in the [6S]-5-MTHF and folic acid groups, respectively. The mean estimated linear increase in RCF was 7.4 (95% CI: 4.5, 10.3), and 8.3 (4.4, 12.3) nmol/(L. wk) in the [6S]-5-MTHF and folic acid groups, respectively. There were no differences in the slopes between the [6S]-5-MTHF group and the folic acid group in either plasma folate (P = 0.48) or RCF (P = 0.70). At 24 wk, estimated mean increases in plasma folate concentrations were 6.9 (95% CI: 1.7, 12.2) and 9.2 (3.3, 15.1) nmol/L, and in RCF, 251 (143, 360) and 275 (148, 402) nmol/L, in the [6S]-5-MTHF and folic acid groups, respectively, relative to the placebo group. These data suggest that low dose [6S]-5-MTHF and folic acid supplementation increase blood folate indices to a similar extent. A steady state in the blood indices had not been reached by 24 wk.