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Low Folate and Vitamin B12 Linked to Depression

Low Folate and Vitamin B12 Linked to Depression


Deficiency of vitamin B12 and folate may put people at risk for depression and heart disease.

What causes a deficiency of vitamins B12 and folate? The most common are aging and poor diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency is an issue for many older adults, with multiple factors such as poor diet, atrophic gastritis, reduced intestinal absorption, and drug interactions contributing to the problem. Some experts suggest a daily multivitamin to maintain adequate B12 levels.

Folate deficiency has been linked in clinic studies to depression, persistent depressive symptoms, and poor response to antidepressants. One study found that people with major depression had folate levels lower than people who had never been depressed.

In North America, not eating enough vegetables is one major cause of folate deficiency.

Vitamin B12 and folate help lower the level of homocysteine, a derivative of the amino acid methionine that's found in blood. Homocysteine is thought to contribute to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and appears to be a risk factor for the development of heart disease. Researchers have also found that people with depression are more likely to have high levels of homocysteine. The fact that these two conditions -- heart disease and depression -- share this finding suggests that they may be related and that vitamin B12 and folate may help prevent and treat these conditions.

Mildly and moderately depressed women are approximately 50 percent more likely to die of heart attacks than other women.

The message? Eat your vegetables. A multivitamin with folic acid and vitamin B12 can also help. If you are taking an antidepressant and not responding to it, consider talking to your doctor about testing your homocysteine level and trying to supplement with these vitamins. It may help.


  1. Fava M, Borus JS, Alpert JE, Nierenberg AA, Rosenbaum JF, Bottiglieri T. Folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine in major depressive disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 1997 Mar;154(3):426-8.
  2. Morris MS, Fava M, Jacques PF, Selhub J, Rosenberg IH. Depression and folate status in the US Population. Psychother Psychosom. 2003 Mar-Apr;72(2):59-60.

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