l-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate Supplementation Increases Blood Folate Concentrations to a Greater Extent than Folic Acid Supplementation in Malaysian Women

J Nutr. 2018 Jun 1;148(6):885-890. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy057.


Background: Folic acid fortification of grains is mandated in many countries to prevent neural tube defects. Concerns regarding excessive intakes of folic acid have been raised. A synthetic analog of the circulating form of folate, l-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (l-5-MTHF), may be a potential alternative.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the effects of folic acid or l-5-MTHF supplementation on blood folate concentrations, methyl nutrient metabolites, and DNA methylation in women living in Malaysia, where there is no mandatory fortification policy.

Methods: In a 12-wk, randomized, placebo-controlled intervention trial, healthy Malaysian women (n = 142, aged 20-45 y) were randomly assigned to receive 1 of the following supplements daily: 1 mg (2.27 μmol) folic acid, 1.13 mg (2.27 μmol) l-5-MTHF, or a placebo. The primary outcomes were plasma and RBC folate and vitamin B-12 concentrations. Secondary outcomes included plasma total homocysteine, total cysteine, methionine, betaine, and choline concentrations and monocyte long interspersed nuclear element-1 (LINE-1) methylation.

Results: The folic acid and l-5-MTHF groups had higher (P < 0.001) RBC folate (mean ± SD: 1498 ± 580 and 1951 ± 496 nmol/L, respectively) and plasma folate [median (25th, 75th percentiles): 40.1 nmol/L (24.9, 52.7 nmol/L) and 52.0 nmol/L (42.7, 73.1 nmol/L), respectively] concentrations compared with RBC folate (958 ± 345 nmol/L) and plasma folate [12.6 nmol/L (8.80, 17.0 nmol/L)] concentrations in the placebo group at 12 wk. The l-5-MTHF group had higher RBC folate (1951 ± 496 nmol/L; P = 0.003) and plasma folate [52.0 nmol/L (42.7, 73.1 nmol/L); P = 0.023] at 12 wk than did the folic acid group [RBC folate, 1498 ± 580 nmol/L; plasma folate, 40.1 nmol/L (24.9, 52.7 nmol/L)]. The folic acid and l-5-MTHF groups had 17% and 15%, respectively, lower (P < 0.001) plasma total homocysteine concentrations than did the placebo group at 12 wk; there were no differences between the folic acid and l-5-MTHF groups. No differences in plasma vitamin B-12, total cysteine, methionine, betaine, and choline and monocyte LINE-1 methylation were observed.

Conclusion: These findings suggest differential effects of l-5-MTHF compared with folic acid supplementation on blood folate concentrations but no differences on plasma total homocysteine lowering in Malaysian women. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01584050.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Folic Acid / blood*
  • Folic Acid / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Malaysia
  • Tetrahydrofolates / administration & dosage*
  • Tetrahydrofolates / pharmacology*
  • Young Adult


  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • Folic Acid
  • 5-methyltetrahydrofolate

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01584050