Depression can be a debilitating condition. Symptoms run the gamut from mild to life altering. It is also common. Depression is the leading non-fatal disease burden in the world. Approximately 1 in 10 people report being depressed.
Medically, drugs are given to patients that essentially increase the effectiveness of the serotonin system in the brain. This treatment, however, is very ineffective. Only about 30% of people achieve remission with one treatment and only 70% with 4 cumulative treatments. Clearly, there is room for more effective treatments out there.
The most popular class of drugs used to treat depression are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. They prevent the nerves in the brain from vacuuming serotonin back up after it has been released. In essence, it makes serotonin more available to the brain. There is quite a bit of research that questions whether these drugs are actually any better than placebo, but that’s for another blog. Examples of these drugs include Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
A recent study has found the addition of high dose L-methylfolate (active folic acid) to the regimen of patients already taking an SSRI helped improve symptoms dramatically in those who had no response or partial response initially. The dose of L-methylfolate was 15mg/day and was tolerated very well by most patients.
Why use the active form of the vitamin?
Folic acid is a very inexpensive supplement that can readily be found at any health food store. When human beings consume folic acid, we must convert it to the active form called L-methylfolate. If we do not, our bodies cannot use it. In some people, however, there exists a genetic defect in which they do not efficiently convert folic acid into L-methylfolate. To prevent this from confounding the results, the authors of the study used the active form. The active form is also available in supplement form as well. I have been using it in my clinic for years to treat people with depression, inflammation and many other conditions in which folic acid metabolism is an issue. It is also possible to use very high doses of the inactive folic acid to achieve the same results, although less rigorous study exists for that.
Depression is complex, but simple remedies exist to help people get relief. Active folic acid, or L-methylfolate, is a good option for those suffering or for those who have not gotten the relief they’ve been looking for from conventional treatments.