Research finds association between low folate and depression

Posted on 26 June 2007

A unique study by researchers at the University of York and Hull York Medical School has confirmed a link between depression and low levels of folate, a vitamin which comes from vegetables.

In research published in the July edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the York team led by Dr Simon Gilbody, concluded that there was a link between depression and low folate levels, following a review of 11 previous studies involving 15,315 participants.

Although the research does not prove that low folate causes depression, we can now be sure that the two are linked

Dr Simon Gilbody

Last month, the Food Standards Agency recommended to UK Health Ministers the introduction of mandatory fortification of either bread or flour with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, which can result in miscarriage, neonatal death or lifelong disability. The York study suggests that the measure may also help in the fight against depression.

Dr Gilbody said: "Our study is unique in that for the first time all the relevant evidence in this controversial area has been brought together. Although the research does not prove that low folate causes depression, we can now be sure that the two are linked. Interestingly, there is also some trial evidence that suggests folic acid supplements can benefit people with depression. We recommend that large trials should be carried out to further test this suggestion."

Recent research from the same team published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has also proved that people with depression commonly have a gene that means that they process folate less efficiently. Folate is linked to the production of some of the 'feel good' chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. The identification of this gene provides a plausible explanation as to why folic acid supplements may help people with depression.

For further information contact Ms Rachel Richardson, tel: 01904 321863, email: cr14@york.ac.uk or Dr Simon Gilbody, Tel: 01904 321370; email: sg519@york.ac.uk, mobile 07740 286588.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • Depression will soon become the second leading cause of disability worldwide. It affects between 5% and 10% of individuals and is the third most common reason for consultation in primary care.
  • Gilbody S, Lightfoot T and Sheldon T. ‘Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta-analysis and exploration of heterogeneity’. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007; 61: 631-637.The article is available at: jech.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/61/7/631
  • Gilbody S, Lewis S and Lightfoot T. ‘MTHFR polymorphisms and psychiatric disorders: a HuGE review’. American Journal of Epidemiology 2007; 165: 1-13. 
  • The University of York’s Department of Health Sciences is a large multi-disciplinary department, offering a broad range of taught and research programmes in the health care field, including nursing. It aims to develop the role of scientific evidence in health and health care through high quality research, teaching and other forms of dissemination.
  • The Hull York Medical School is a partnership between the Universities of York and Hull. Drawing on the expertise of both universities, it opened in 2003 and has already developed an enviable reputation for medical research and undergraduate teaching.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153