How can folic acid affect depression?

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Dr. Peter Bongiorno, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Folate, also known as folic acid, has been studied in the literature for its benefit in mood issues for the past 25 years. It is well known to be a factor in depression when depleted in the body. Folate depletion can be encouraged by eating poorly, by taking certain drugs (like anti-epileptic medication) and also alcohol intake.

One of the more recent folate studies looks at 75 patients who were already taking antidepressant medication but were not responding. It was shown that patients taking 15 milligrams of folate per day found their medication to work significantly better -- and these effects were as good or better than the conventional medications studied according to the authors. This study suggests that this water-soluble B vitamin may be a viable alternative to the vast array of adjunctive and add-on medications, including antipsychotic medications, that awaits the initial drug nonresponder.

As a note, the best form of folate is l-methylfolate, which is the most available for the body to use. Because some people have a genetic inability to convert the typical folic acid into l-methylfolate, it is recommended to supplement with this form of folic acid. Methylfolate is most like the form that appears in natural vegetables. In fact, using the common form of the supplement folic acid, which is employed in most vitamins, pregnancy formulas and in enriched foods, may actually make the more bioavailable l-methylfolate form less available for the body to use.
Studies on folic acid have focused mainly on its effectiveness when used in conjunction with antidepressant medication. Folic acid is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters. In one trial, people exhibiting folate deficiency responded less quickly to antidepressant medication than did people with normal folate levels. Folic acid appears to accelerate the onset of the therapeutic effect of imipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant).

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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.