January 6-12, 2013 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week! Folic Acid is an essential B9 vitamin responsible for the maintenance and production of normal, healthy genetic materials, such as DNA and RNA, in the human body.
The synthetic form of naturally occurring folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, beans, liver, and some fruit, however, people may either forgo these in favor of less nutritious food or the vitamin may be dismantled during preparation and cooking.
The significance of folic acid is well known in the realm of pregnancy, where healthy levels of the vitamin lower the risk of neural tube defects, low birth weight, and congential heart defects in babies as well as prevent preterm delivery.
But folic acid is making strides in the world of mental health as well. In the brain, the levels of folic acid affect production of several neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
A direct correlation of folic acid shortage and instances of depression has been recently discovered in several studies: “Both low folate and low vitamin B12 status have been found in studies of depressive patients, and an association between depression and low levels of the two vitamins is found in studies of the general population1.”
Taking care to avoid folic acid deficiency has been shown effective in treatment of mild depression and anxiety when taken alongside antidepressants. The FDA recommends 0.400 g of folic acid daily, however this amount may need to be increased for the treatment of depression. Studies have found: “on the basis of current data oral doses of both folic acid (0.800 g daily) and vitamin B12 (1 mg daily) should be tried to improve treatment outcome in depression1.” Alcohol, sugars, refined foods, and nicotine may also decrease levels of folic acid in the body, specificially, “alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and increases excretion of folate by the kidney2.”
DO you suffer from mild depression and/or anxiety? Adding a regime of folic acid supplements or increasing your intake of foods such as spinach, broccoli, okra, asparagus, bananas, and lemons have been shown to “enhance treatment response to antidepressants2” and may be a healthier, more natural option for you than increasing antidepressant dosage. Ask your healthcare provider when considering this option as the effects of folic acid may vary person to person.
- J Psychopharmacol. 2005 Jan;19(1):59-65.Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C.
MRC Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory, Epsom, Surrey, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also note: The Spina Bifida Association is the managing agent for the National Council on Folic Acid.