Since 1998, the U.S. has mandated folic acid (FA) fortification of certain grain products to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folate intake and red blood cell (RBC) folate concentrations increased substantially post-intervention, although recent studies raise concerns about the level of ongoing benefit. This study investigated blood folate level determinants in healthy young adults, including intake of naturally occurring food folate, synthetic FA, and the interaction of naturally occurring food folate with a common missense variant in the FOLH1 gene thought to affect absorption. Participants (n = 265) completed the Diet History Questionnaire II, RBC folate testing, and were genotyped for the 484T>C FOLH1 variant. Men reported significantly greater intake of all folate sources except for supplemental FA, but RBC folate levels did not significantly differ by sex. Synthetic FA was a stronger predictor of RBC folate than naturally occurring food folate. In the largest racial group, synthetic FA and the interaction of FOLH1 genotype with naturally occurring food folate significantly predicted RBC folate, with the overall model accounting for 13.8% of the variance in RBC folate levels. Blood folate levels rely on a complex interaction of natural and synthetic folate intake as well as FOLH1 genotype.
Keywords: FOLH1; RBC folate; dietary folate; folic acid.