Scientific evidence supports a number of roles for folate in maintaining health from early life to old age. Folate is required for one-carbon metabolism, including the remethylation of homocysteine to methionine; thus elevated plasma homocysteine reflects functional folate deficiency. Optimal folate status has an established role in preventing NTD and there is strong evidence indicating that it also has a role in the primary prevention of stroke. The most important genetic determinant of homocysteine in the general population is the common 677C → T variant in the gene encoding the folate-metabolising enzyme, MTHFR; homozygous individuals (TT genotype) have reduced enzyme activity and elevated plasma homocysteine concentrations. Meta-analyses indicate that the TT genotype carries a 14 to 21 % increased risk of CVD, but there is considerable geographic variation in the extent of excess CVD risk. A novel interaction between this folate polymorphism and riboflavin (a co-factor for MTHFR) has recently been identified. Intervention with supplemental riboflavin targeted specifically at individuals with the MTHFR 677TT genotype was shown to result in significant lowering of blood pressure in hypertensive people and in patients with CVD. This review considers the established and emerging roles for folate throughout the lifecycle, and some public health issues related to optimising folate status.