A lot of biological, environmental and lifestyle factors are involved in the development of depression. Studies confirm that one such biological factor is a deficiency of the B vitamin folate (also called folic acid — although folate comes from food sources, while folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin that you take as a supplement).
Most studies that have examined the folate/depression link have shown that low levels of the vitamin are associated with the risk of developing depression or elevated depressive symptoms in adults. However, few studies have evaluated folate association and the different subtypes of depression. So researchers in Finland aimed to learn about the link between folate and two main types of depression: melancholic and non-melancholic.
Melancholic depression is primarily caused by biological factors, but it can also be triggered by life events. People with this type of depression experience extreme lethargy and the complete inability to be happy or cheered up.
Non-melancholic depression is the most common type of depression that usually occurs in response to a life event like death, a breakup or the loss of a job. Those who suffer from this type of depression are less likely to have the severe symptoms of melancholic depression, but still experience sadness, inability to sleep and other depression symptoms.
Researchers randomly selected 4,500 people who took part in the Finnish type 2 diabetes survey. These participants ranged in age from 45–74 years. Of those participants, 2,806 individuals (1,328 men and 1,478 women) completed the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), a 21-item questionnaire consisting of questions related to attributes and symptoms of depression. In the entire group, 429 tested positive for depressive symptoms. Of these, 138 were described as melancholic, and the other 291 were non-melancholic.
To determine diet and folate intake, researchers used a food frequency questionnaire. They found that folate intake was lower in men than in women, and that people with melancholic depression had a lower folate intake as compared to those who had non-melancholic depression.
The researchers acknowledged that this finding was in line with other studies that suggest that low folate affects serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is a primary neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with mood. They concluded that folate may play a role in the development of depression, particularly melancholic. And since the cause of melancholic depression is usually biological in nature, this conclusion seems to make a lot of sense.
Boost Your Folate Levels
The conventional approach to treating depression often involves the use of antidepressant medication. While many people who use antidepressants find relief, others find the side effects — which include nausea, weight gain, fatigue, dry mouth, blurry vision and lack of sex drive — unbearable. Of course, abruptly stopping the use of these medications can cause withdrawal symptoms, so never stop taking them without the approval and close supervision of your doctor.
Dealing with depression in a healthy manner should always involve the participation of your doctor, as well as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, if need be. If you decide to treat your depression (particularly melancholic) without the use of medication, then adding folate-rich foods to your diet may give your brain the nutrients it needs to properly synthesize serotonin, which could lift your mood naturally.
You’ll find many, many folate-rich foods at your local grocery store. In fact, because it’s such an important vitamin for pregnant women to take for the prevention of birth defects, most breads, cereals and pastas are fortified with this vitamin.
But there’s really no need to indulge in fortified foods when folate is a natural component of so many healthy vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes. Some include: lentils, okra, kidney beans, black beans, broccoli, beets, sunflower seeds, corn, asparagus, potatoes, cabbage, avocados, peanuts, romaine lettuce, strawberries and citrus fruits.
If you choose to supplement with folic acid, take 400 mcg per day. If you’re pregnant or a woman of child-bearing age, you should take up to 800 mcg daily.
 Seppala J et al. Association between folate intake and melancholic depressive symptoms: A Finnish population-based study. J Affect Disord. 2012;138;473-78.