Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Folic acid and brain health--don't forget it!

As my last post discussed, depression is not just about mood. It's about the integrity of neurons and the systems that support them. One very strong connection that research is increasingly supporting, is the link between depression and inflammation. Inflammatory markers commonly used to identify heart disease, such as homocysteine, are being correlated as well with depression.

Here, 27 subjects were divided into two groups. One group was given fluoxetine (Prozac) and folic acid, while the other was given fluoxetine and placebo. (Folic acid was given because it has been shown to help prevent elevated homocysteine.) Another 15 subjects were given nothing at all, for a basis of comparison.

As happens in cardiovascular studies using folate as an intervention, plasma homocysteine levels dropped with folate supplementation. The interesting finding, however, was that when subjects took the Hamilton Depression Rating Score, those who had received the folate showed greater improvement than those who only received the fluoxetine. There was no significant difference in serotonin levels, so the researchers concluded that folate was not affecting the mechanism by which fluoxetine works.

So the bottom line seems to can't just fix depression with a pill. How you take care of yourself (i.e., how you choose to eat) can be a crucial factor in whether or not your brain works at its absolute best.

If you want to add more folate to your diet, here are your best food choices: fortified breakfast cereal, whole wheat products, meat, beans, liver, eggs, sunflower seeds, asparagus, leafy green vegetables, oranges, strawberries, melons.

Resler G, Lavie R, Campos J, Mata S, Urbina M, GarcĂ­a A, Apitz R, Lima L. Effect of folic acid combined with fluoxetine in patients with major depression on plasma homocysteine and vitamin B12, and serotonin levels in lymphocytes. Neuroimmunomodulation. 2008;15(3):145-52. Epub 2008 Aug 21.

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