It's not uncommon to hear doctors prescribe folic acid supplements to pregnant women. This is because it's beneficial in protecting developing fetuses from neural tube defects and cleft palate, among providing other benefits to pregnancy. But what about using folic acid to relieve depression -- is that done? Yes.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, which also include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine/pyridoxal/pyridoxamine (B6), biotin (B7), cobalamins (B12), and choline. B vitamins help our bodies make brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help regulate our moods and transmit messages through our brain. All B vitamins play an important role in this but folic acid, B6 and B12 deficiencies, specifically, can affect the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), serotonin and dopamine -- low levels of these three neurotransmitters are linked to depression and other mood disorders.
A study conducted at the MRC Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory and published in the January 2005 edition of the "Journal of Psychopharmacology," for example, found that individuals with symptoms of major depression also had low levels of folate and vitamin B12. Another study, published in the journal "Biological Psychiatry," found that 21 percent of depressed study participants had low levels of B6.
Whether people with depression develop low levels of B vitamins or if low levels of B vitamins lead to the depression is unclear, but what is clear is that B vitamin supplements may play a role in alleviating symptoms of major depression.