Mental & Emotional Health

Folic Acid and Depression

Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid, gets a lot of attention during pregnancy. It’s important for prenatal development, and too little can lead to a host of birth defects. But a lack of it impacts some people no matter what their age, and it may affect a somewhat surprising condition: depression.

Folic acid can be found in healthy foods like dark leafy greens and is easily absorbed by most people. But other people have a mutation in a gene called MTHFR. With this mutation, known as C677T, your body doesn’t absorb folic acid—no matter how much you take in. And that can have a profound effect.

Why? Because C677T is linked to depression. While you may not have heard a lot about this long group of letters and numbers, MTHFR C677T research isn’t new. Well-respected studies have been published in credible journals for more than ten years. This mutation also isn’t rare. The National Institutes of Health estimates that it affects about 25 percent of Hispanics and 10 to 15 percent of Caucasians.

Time and time again, scientists found that the MTHFR mutation is overrepresented in depressive patients. It shows up much more frequently in them than in the general population. And, according to the NIH, “Low folate [folic acid] status has been linked to depression and poor response to antidepressants.”

We also now know that having this mutation can predict late life depression, even if you haven’t dealt with it previously. You can find out if you have the C677T mutation on your MTHFR gene through readily available genetic testing. Your doctor can order it, and most insurance will cover it. If not, the test should cost less than $200.

If you do have this genetic condition, what’s next? If you are being treated for depression and have the C677T mutation, taking folic acid along with your medication may have some big results. With your doctor you can figure out a plan, but research is showing that some people can see as big an impact just from the vitamin as from medication, and others get a big boost from the combination.

Not everyone needs to get tested for MTHFR C677T. But if depression has been part of your life or your family history—especially with trouble treating it—then it might be time to investigate.


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