Can folic acid help alleviate depression?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

There is evidence that people with depression who take folic acid along with an antidepressant get more relief from their medication than those who don't. However, taking folic acid supplements alone doesn't improve depression symptoms, even though people with low folate levels are more likely to become depressed than people with normal levels. (Folate is the natural form of folic acid or vitamin B9.)

If you're feeling blue for more than a couple of weeks, talk to your doctor.

Adding more folate to your diet—through foods or supplements—can reduce symptoms of depression, improve response to antidepressants and may also help in recovery from depressive episodes. Depressed people often have low levels of folate, a B vitamin important for cell growth. Adult women should consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily; pregnant women need 600 mcg and nursing mothers, 500 mcg. The U.S. government requires folate (as folic acid) to be added to some foods, such as fortified cereals and breads. Natural sources include liver, spinach and black-eyed peas.

It's pretty sound advice for women who are experiencing mood problems to take folic acid supplements.

Dr. Robert J. Hedaya, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Several studies have shown the utility of folic acid as an adjunct to medication use for depression. In one study the average HAM-D (a standard measure of depression) score decreased from 27 to 7 in those receiving fluoxetine plus folic acid, and from 27 to 12 in those on fluoxetine plus a placebo. Recovery (full) was attained in 73 percent of the women receiving fluoxetine plus folic acid, but only 47 percent of those on fluoxetine plus a placebo.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.