A daily supplement of folic acid has been recommended for pregnant women for years because a lack of this compound can lead to birth defects related to the spine and brain for the unborn child. More recent studies have linked the consumption of folic acid supplements with the treatment of depression. Folic acid works mainly by promoting the regeneration of cells throughout the body. Since depression could possibly be caused by a lack of neural activity, it is thought that folic acid’s regenerative properties might help to counteract this deficit in brain function. However, to this point researchers have not gone so far as to claim that folic acid, on its own, is a viable treatment for depression.
There are three main theories on how using a folic acid supplement could affect symptoms of depression:
Recent research has shown that for those who show little initial response to antidepressants can improve their effects by supplementing these drugs with a daily dose of folic acid. One study showed that an increase in folic acid intake showed an improved response rate of 40 percent. In a British study, supplementing the drug Prozac with a daily 500 milligram dose enhanced the positive response to the drug, especially for women.
Possible Role in the Root Cause of Depression
Other studies have shown that depression itself could be caused by a lack of adequate levels of folic acid in the body. As mentioned previously, folic acid has regenerative qualities. It modulates the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. The successful deployment and transmission of these neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, are crucial in the production of chemicals within the brain that affect mood, anxiety and energy levels. Therefore, though folic acid supplements don’t necessarily treat the causes of the deficiency of folic acid within the body, they do, in the short term, supply a boost the supply readily available for the brain to utilize its neurotransmitters more effectively. So, it’s possible that consuming folic acid can alleviate symptoms of depression in the short term.
Depletion of Folic Acid Levels Caused by Antidepressants
Most antidepressants come with a multitude of side-effects, lowering and heightening levels of chemicals throughout the body. Studies have shown that one such side-effect is the lowering of folic acid levels. This depletion may be one of the reasons why those who suffer from depression don’t respond to antidepressant medications. So, a folic acid supplement, in these cases, might make the medication more effective by offsetting this effect.
All that said, doctors do not currently recommend using folic acid supplementation as the only means of treating depression. There has simply not been enough research performed on its overall link to its role in treating this disease. However, many doctors are telling their patients to take a daily dosage if they do not initially respond to their prescribed medication in hopes that it will allow the antidepressant to have a more beneficial effect. Therefore, if you find that your medication is not working as it should, this might be an option you may want to discuss with your doctor.