Encouraging evidence continues to grow for a link between low folate levels and depression for some people. Folate, a B-vitamin, is also known as folic acid.
The journal of Clinical Nutrition published results of a study in which serum levels of B12 and folate were measured in 224 consecutive newly admitted depressed patients to a psychiatric hospital. No significant connection was found between B12 and depression in this study. However, thirty percent of patients had low folate levels compared to just 2.5 percent of controls (mentally healthy).
This doesn’t mean that folate is the key to preventing or treating all forms of depression in all patients. It’s a complex issue (see information on this topic from William Walsh, PhD) but one that should be a top priority for research and physician education.
Slow response from the medical community
A connection between folic acid and depression has been studied for decades, and normal folate levels are also associated with improved response to drugs for depression. Still, mainstream medicine has been slow to recognize the value of measuring nutritional deficiencies and attempting to remediate those found.
A journal article from Psychotherapy Psychosomatics encouraged physicians to consider folate supplementation following depressive episodes. Unfortunately, medication alone continues to be the first line of treatment.
Prozac to the rescue?
An article from Scotland in The Times sounded an alarm over the increasing numbers of children and adults with depression in that country. “One in five Scots are expected to suffer from depression at some stage in their lives and Scotland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, with 835 people taking their own lives in 2004.”
Rather than explore the reasons for these sobering statistics, doctors can be expected to turn to suggestions from the European Medicines Agency, which has just ruled that Prozac should be given to children as young as eight to help them battle depression.
On the one hand, natural treatments for depression are growing in credibility. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies are investing big bucks in their quest to have millions of young children around the world treated with their drugs. Given the imbalance of power and money, and the lack of physician interest in biomedical treatments for depression, real progress in combating this pervasive issue seems to be one step forward and two steps back.