Enhancing Antidepressant Treatment With Folic Acid
A few months ago, my psychiatrist recommended that I take folic acid supplements, as they might boost the effectiveness of my antidepressants. I was surprised to hear his recommendation, as the idea was completely new to me. I had of course taken folic acid when my husband and I were trying to conceive, but didn’t know much about it otherwise.
When I got home and started doing research, I saw why I hadn’t heard much about folic acid in conjunction with antidepressant treatment. There haven’t been a lot of studies addressing the issue. The oldest study I could find was done in 1988, exploring the question of whether antidepressants caused folic acid depletion or not, and the subject hadn’t really been extensively researched for close to twenty years after that.
Apparently, the study in 1988 was not conclusive as far as establishing a link between antidepressants and folic acid depletion. However, the study authors cautioned that there were several factors that might have influenced the results in their study, and pointed out that antidepressant use among the study participants was of a short-term duration. In addition, this study was done before SSRIs like Prozac were commonly used (all the participants in this study were taking tricyclic antidepressants). The SSRIs might deplete folic acid more than the tricyclics - again, not enough research has been done.
My antidepressant treatment, Wellbutrin, had been keeping the major depression away, but I still didn’t feel quite like I should. I didn’t have a whole lot of mental energy, and really wasn’t getting a lot done. That, for me, is a sign of mild to moderate depression.
I bought a bottle of folic acid supplement and gave it a shot. At first I was somewhat haphazard about it, and stopped entirely for a few weeks. When I decided that I was not completely happy with the result of the antidepressant treatment, I decided to give it another shot. I faithfully took 300mg of folic acid every morning for two weeks and assessed the results. I definitely felt that I had felt less depressed, so I have continued withe the supplements.
Apparently there are three factors here at work, although it’s a bit confusing (at least to me), since they seem to kind of overlap. First, folic acid appears to enhance the performance of antidepressants. Second, a lack of folic acid is believed to contribute to depression. And third, some antidepressants are believed to deplete folic acid.
Folic acid is not the only nutrient that is believed to be depleted by antidepressants. Antidepressants have also been associated with lower levels of the B vitamins, calcium and magnesium. In addition, there are a few other types of medications that are associated with folic acid depletion, so you might want to follow the link at the bottom of this Sharepost and see if any of your other medications are compounding the problem. Looking at the list made me realize that I definitely should start taking a daily multi-vitamin, as I take several of the medications on the list.
Note that some articles online promote folic acid as a depression treatment in place of antidepressants. There is no study at this point that would support that assertion. Folic acid should not replace your antidepressant; it should only be considered as a supplement to treatment.
So if your antidepressant is not working as well as it should, you might want to consider folic acid supplements. They’re inexpensive, and at the proper dosage, safe. Make sure you check with your doctor first, of course.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.