Can Folic Acid Help Ease Depression?

Image for HCA, folic acid and depressionFolic acid , also called folate, is famous for its role in preventing birth defects. But this B vitamin is also being researched for its effects on depression . A group of researchers from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts found that blood levels of folic acid were much lower among people with depression than in people who were not depressed. Findings like these have suggested a link between low folic acid levels and depression. If low levels of this vitamin lead to depressive symptoms, it seems logical to conclude that giving folic acid supplements to people with depression will help their recovery. However, research shows that the connection is not that simple.

Folic Acid and the Brain

Folic acid, which is needed to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of genes and an important component cells, is also quite active in the brain and central nervous system. It affects the production of certain essential compounds and neurotransmitters—substances that carry messages to different parts of the brain. For example, folic acid deficiency leads to lower levels of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) in the brain. Some research has suggested that supplementation with SAMe can play a positive role in the treatment of depression. One possible theory is that low folic acid levels leads to low SAMe, which increases symptoms of depression. By improving folic acid status, SAMe increases, and depressive symptoms drop.

What the Studies Have Found

A review of 11 studies involving 15,315 people found an association between low folic acid levels and depression, adding to the evidence that folic acid deficiency is a risk factor for depression.Researchers have also focused on people who are being treated for depression. For example, in one study, 127 people with severe depression were randomized to receive 500 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily or placebo along with their antidepressant medication fluoxetine for 10 weeks. The women in the treatment group experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms. Interestingly enough, the men taking the folic acid did not have the same results. While it is hard to say exactly why this happened, the men may have needed a higher dose of folic acid to experience the benefits.In another study, 909 older adults with mild depression where randomized to receive different treatments, including a group that took folic acid and vitamin B12 daily for two years. The evidence showed, though, that the two vitamins were no better than the placebo in improving depression.

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