OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of supplementation with the diastereoisomer of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate ([6S]5-methylTHF), as an alternative supplement for folic acid, on folate absorption and elimination, in two age groups. DESIGN: A randomized, double-blind intervention study. SUBJECTS: A total of 12 young (<30 y) and 12 middle-aged (> or =50 y) healthy volunteers were recruited. METHODS: Volunteers were randomized to receive daily supplementation with 400 mug folic acid or equimolar amounts of [6S]5-methylTHF during 5 weeks. Before and after supplementation, absorption and initial elimination were calculated following oral [(2)H(2)]folic acid test doses using isotope kinetics in plasma. RESULTS: Folic acid absorption was lower in the middle-aged as compared to the young adults, both before (P = 0.03) and after (P = 0.05) supplementation. In the young adults, absorption decreased by 22% after [6S]5-methylTHF and increased by 21% after folic acid (P = 0.02). In the other age group, no such changes were found. The folate rate constant of elimination increased after folic acid supplementation in the young (+50%; P = 0.05) but not in the middle-aged (+18%; P = 0.5) adults. CONCLUSIONS: Young adults show increased folate turnover after folic acid supplementation relative to the effect of [6S]5-methylTHF supplementation. Similar differences are not observed in middle-aged adults, in whom folic acid absorption was found to be lower as compared to the young adults.Sponsorship:Financial support was received from the European Union 5th Framework Programme (Grant QLRT-1999-00576).