Research has long shown an association between low folate levels and depression, particularly depression that’s more severe and less responsive to medical treatment. (Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin in its natural form. Folic acid is the synthetic version found in supplements.)
Folate is critical in the development of the human nervous system, so pregnant women must take folic acid supplements. People who abuse alcohol, people with certain illnesses, and those who take a number of different medications are at risk for folate deficiencies, which can present with a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Doctors may check folate levels as part of an initial workup of depression.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins but is considered separately and is not always included in the B-complex supplements. A prescription strength version of folic acid — Lmethylfolate (Deplin) — is now approved as an augmenting agent for people who are not responding to antidepressant therapy alone.
Warning: It is important to check for both folic acid and B12 levels before supplementing with folic acid. High folic acid levels may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Both folic acid and B12 deficiencies cause anemia — low red blood counts. If only folic acid is used, but there is also a B12 deficiency, the anemia may get better but the nervous system damage from the B12 deficit will still occur.
If you have been diagnosed as having depression, have you had your folate levels checked? If so, what did the test results show? Have you taken a folate supplement to treat depression or other cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms? If so, did the supplement work for you alone or in combination with medication?
Vegetable B photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 6 Apr 2012