When people hear the word “folate,” they usually think of women and pregnancy. Folate supplementation during pregnancy has been highly recommended for years. Studies have shown that folate regulates fetal nerve cell formation and can prevent many neural tube defects, like spina bifida. But folate is also a very important vitamin for everyone, not just pregnant women. Folate is considered a brain food. It is needed for energy production. And it is needed for the formation of red blood cells and strengthens the immune system by aiding in the formation and functioning of white blood cells.
Now, a new study published in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” says that folate could also play a role in preventing depression. Researchers have known for some time that many depressed patients have also been found to have low folate levels. This has led to the hypothesis linking folate and depression. And it seems the link works the other way around, too: folate supplementation has been shown to help in treating depression.
This new study, however, “is unique in that for the first time all the relevant evidence in this controversial area has been brought together,” Dr. Simon Gilbody, of the University of York, UK, said in a statement. “Although the research does not prove that low folate causes depression, we can now be sure that the two are linked,” he added.
Gilbody and his researchers set out to prove the link in a clinical study. The team reviewed 11 past studies on the association between folate levels and depression. A total of 15,315 participants were reviewed, 1,769 of whom had depression. The researchers discovered that individuals with low folate levels had as much as a 55% increased risk for depression. Apparently, this increased depression risk was present even when the researchers took into account factors that could affect the results, such as the reduced appetite and excessive alcohol drinking that have been associated with depression.
Not surprisingly, the researchers also discovered that not only did study participants with low folate levels have an increased risk of depression, but that the opposite was also true. Depressed individuals had lower folate levels than the non-depressed participants.
This is great news for those dealing with depression. According to statistics, that number may be as high as one in 10. Depression is a common cause of disability and is one of the main reasons why people visit their primary health-care providers. Treating depression with folate supplementation could be a simple, safe and inexpensive way to reduce the suffering caused by this common problem.
Besides feeling depressed, or upping your risk for getting heart disease, folate deficiency can cause a number of other symptoms, including anemia, fatigue, graying hair, insomnia, labored breathing, memory problems, paranoia, and digestive difficulties.
So keep your folate levels up! The recommended RDA for folate is 400 mcg. You can take up to 600 mcg safely. Folate is one of those rare vitamins that are actually better absorbed when taken in supplement form as opposed to food sources — even fortified foods. One final note: folate works best when taken with vitamin C and B12.