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baseline plasma homocysteine, showed significant homocysteine lowering in the top (mean 11 µmol/L) and middle (mean 9 µmol/ L) homocysteine tertiles but not in the bottom tertile (mean 7 µmol/L). All baseline homocysteine values were within the normal range; the highest was 12.3 µmol/L. Of the three folate doses, 200 µg appeared to be as effective as 400 µg whereas 100 µg was less effective at lowering homocysteine. These data suggest that there is a concentration of plasma homocysteine below which folate has no further lowering effect.

Maternal hyperhomocysteinemia has been implicated as a risk factor for complications during pregnancy (Burke et al., 1992; Goddijn-Wessel et al., 1996; Rajkovic et al., 1997; Steegers-Theunissen et al., 1992, 1994; Wouters et al., 1993), but the relationship between folate intake and the complications has not been established.

Although plasma homocysteine is a sensitive indicator of folate status, it is not a highly specific one: it can be influenced by vitamin B12 status (Stabler et al., 1996), vitamin B6 status (Ubbink et al., 1995a), age (Selhub et al., 1993), gender (Selhub et al., 1993), race (Ubbink et al., 1995b), some genetic abnormalities (e.g., methyltetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency) (Jacques et al., 1996; Malinow et al., 1997), and renal insufficiency (Hultberg et al., 1993). Thus, plasma homocysteine alone is not an acceptable indicator on which to base the folate requirement.

Knowledge of the relationships of folate, homocysteine, and risk of vascular disease was judged too weak to use as the basis for deriving the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for folate. This topic is described in more detail in “Reducing Risk of Developmental Disorders and Chronic Degenerative Disease.”

Serum Folate

A serum folate concentration of less than 7 nmol/L (3 ng/mL) indicates negative folate balance at the time the blood sample was drawn (Herbert, 1987). In all the experimental studies of human volunteers subjected to folate deprivation, a decrease in the serum folate concentration, usually occurring within 1 to 3 weeks, was the first event (Eichner and Hillman, 1971; Eichner et al., 1971; Halsted et al., 1973; Herbert 1962a; Sauberlich et al., 1987). This initial period of folate deprivation is followed by weeks or months when the serum folate concentration is low but there is no other evidence of deficiency. The circulating folate concentration may also be depressed in situations in which there is no detectable alteration in

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