Background: For the primary prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs), public health authorities recommend women of childbearing age to take 400 mug folic acid/d 4 wk before conception and during the first trimester. The biologically active derivate [6S]-5-methyltetrahydrofolate ([6S]-5-MTHF) could be an alternative to folic acid.
Objective: We investigated the effect of supplementation with [6S]-5-MTHF compared with that of folic acid on red blood cell folate concentration, an indicator of folate status.
Design: The study was designed as a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled intervention trial. Healthy women (n = 144) aged 19-33 y received 400 microg folic acid, the equimolar amount of [6S]-5-MTHF (416 microg), 208 microg [6S]-5-MTHF, or placebo as a daily supplement for 24 wk. Red blood cell and plasma folate concentrations were measured at baseline and at 4-wk intervals.
Results: The increase in red blood cell folate over time was significantly higher in the group receiving 416 microg [6S]-5-MTHF/d than in the groups receiving 400 microg folic acid/d or 208 microg [6S]-5-MTHF/d (P < 0.001). No plateau was reached in red blood cell folate concentration in the 3 treatment groups during 24 wk of intervention; however, plasma folate plateaued after 12 wk.
Conclusions: We showed that administration of [6S]-5-MTHF is more effective than is folic acid supplementation at improving folate status. In addition, the study indicates that the recommended period for preconceptional folic acid supplementation should be extended to >4 wk for maximal prevention of NTDs based on folate concentrations. [6S]-5-MTHF might be an efficient and safe alternative to folic acid.