This article presents a historical perspective on the different methods used to measure folate status in populations and clinical settings. I discuss some of the advantages and limitations of these procedures. For >50 y researchers have used microbiological assay methods to assess folate status in clinical settings and in population-based studies, such as NHANES. Serum and red blood cell folate values obtained with the Lactobacillus casei assay have formed the basis for current ranges and cutoffs for the establishment of folate sufficiency and for the current dietary reference intakes for folate. Over the past 30 y competitive folate protein binding assays, which are available in kit form, have supplanted microbiological assays in many clinical laboratories because of their ease of use. Several NHANES cycles have used these assays. Folate concentrations obtained with these kits are lower than those from microbiological assays and show a wide variation between different protein binding assay kits. This variation has complicated the setting of values for normal ranges of folate status and the comparison of status changes between different NHANES cycles. The recent development of mass spectrometry methods for folate opens up the possibility of measurement of individual folate vitamers such as folic acid. Past experience with microbiological and competitive protein binding assays indicates some of the technical problems that research will need to address before this promise becomes reality
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