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Depression, Low Folate Levels Linked

Depression, Low Folate Levels LinkedTufts nutrition experts find that the vitamin folate – found in a variety of foods including vegetables and cereals – may help ease depression and prevent memory loss. Boston.

Boston [06.26.03] The food you eat may impact more than just your physical health - it could also play a role in your mental health as well. According to recent studies by Tufts nutrition experts, low levels of the vitamin folate - found in a variety of foods - has been linked with depression, low energy levels and even memory loss.

"[Tufts' Martha Morris and four colleagues] found that those who had experienced major depression had lower concentrations of folate in their bloodstream and red blood cells than those who had never been depressed," reported the Hartford Courant. "In addition, those with chronic low-level depression - also known as dysthymia - had lower red blood cell levels than the non-depressed."

The research team, which conducted their research at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, studied data on nearly 3,000 people ages 15 to 39.

"Supplementation possibly helps by reducing fatigue and improving energy levels," Morris, an epidemiologist who teaches at Tufts' Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the newspaper. "People who are diagnosed with depression should then find out whether they are folate deficient to determine if a supplement is warranted."

Morris' research opens the door for future research to pinpoint exactly why vitamin deficiencies result in different types of medical conditions.

"Clinical studies show that folate supplementation helps depressed people, although we still don't have a good idea why depressed people have low folate status," Morris said.

This isn't the first time that Tufts researchers have further shown the health benefits of folate. In 2001, Morris and her colleagues found that folate helps significantly modify homocysteine levels in the brain. The presence of homocysteine has been associated with cognitive impairment and has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer disease, dementia and strokes. And, Dr. Irwin Rosenberg, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, was among the very first worldwide to explore the relationship between folate, homocysteine and cardiovascular disease resulting in landmark publications.

"Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University were looking for a relationship between blood homocysteine levels and memory loss," reported the Agriculture Research Service. "Their research had established that homocysteine levels were higher in elderly people with low intakes of B vitamins, especially folate."

Despite its benefits, Morris and her colleagues caution that people shouldn't make a significant increase in their folate intake without consulting a doctor.

"While studies on folate and antidepressant treatment are promising, scientists do not yet know which patients should get folate supplements, in what dose or for how long," reported the Courant. "Furthermore, the safety of high-dosage supplementation has not been established."

Good sources for folate include vegetables and fruits such as leafy greens, strawberries, and melons, as well as dried beans and cereals, or any multivitamin.

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