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B Vitamins May Prevent Depression

New findings suggests that some people with depression might have problems metabolizing the B vitamin folate, also known as folic acid.

Investigators in Norway found that depression occurred more commonly in people who had high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in their blood, and in those who carried a form of a gene that encodes a protein involved in processing folate.

The findings were based on blood samples from 5,948 people between the ages of 46 and 49, and screening them for depression and anxiety. The researchers found that people who had relatively high levels of homocysteine in their blood were almost twice as likely to be depressed, relative to people with the lowest blood levels of homocysteine.

Depression was also linked to a form of the gene for a folate-processing enzyme associated with poorer efficiency in the breakdown of folate.

Homocysteine is a normal byproduct of metabolism. However, many people accummulate so much homocyteine that it becomes toxic. Folate is one of the B vitamins that helps your body to detoxify homocysteine. A folate insufficiency in the cells is a partial cause of excessive homocysteine.

So if you're depressed, it may be partly due to an insufficient intake of folate, or you are not metabolizing it correctly. In either case, you probably need more folate. Simply increasing your dietary intake of uncooked or undercooked vegetables (especially green vegetables) will help. In addition, you should take a high-potency, high-quality B-complex vitamin.

However, if you have a genetic flaw that impairs folate metabolism, you may need a much higher level of folic acid than is available in a B-complex formula.

Medications that increase homocysteine levels (such as Glucophage) may also deplete folate levels and thus contribute to depression.

If you have a problem with depression, consult with one of our physicians about the amount of folic acid other B vitamins you need to take. Previous research has suggested that folic acid supplements may boost the effects of antidepressants. Therefore, we may be able to help you reduce the dosage of your antidepressants.

The Connecticut Center for Health offers homocysteine testing so that you can determine whether high homocysteine is a cause of your health problem. We can also deteermine whether you may have a folate insufficiency from your CBC (complete blood count), or by ordering a "hypersegmented neutrophil" test.

There's no reason for you to be depressed simply because of a vitamin deficiency or unintended consequences of other medications. Call today!

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry 2003;60:618-626.