Folic Acid — or the man-made version of folate, a naturally occurring B vitamin — is mostly known for its involvement in preventing the development of neural tube defects in children in the womb.
While that is folic acid’s most important job, it has a number of other benefits for people of all ages, including when it comes to mental health.
Multiple studies have shown that low blood folate levels are associated with poor brain function, an increased risk of dementia, and an increased risk of mental impairment in older adults.
In turn, taking folic acid has been found to potentially improve brain function in those with mental impairments as well as help to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2019 study, involving 180 adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), showed that taking 400 mcg of folic acid per day for two years significantly improved measures of brain function, including verbal IQ and reduced blood levels of certain proteins involved in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, compared with a control group.
Another study from 2016 involved 121 people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who were being treated with the medication donepezil. Researchers found that those who took 1,250 mcg of folic acid per day* for six months had improved cognition and reduced markers of inflammation, compared with those who took donepezil alone.
Folic acid supplements have also been found to help people suffering from mental health disorders, including depression.
One study from 2017 found that folic acid and folate supplements may reduce depressive symptoms when used in conjunction with antidepressant medications.
A systematic review demonstrated that folic acid and methylfolate, when used alongside antidepressant medication, were associated with significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms, compared with antidepressant medication treatment alone.
There is also a review of seven studies that found that treatment with folic acid supplements alongside antipsychotic medication resulted in reduced negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia, compared with antipsychotic medication alone.
*Before taking folic acid, especially at an amount of 1,250 mcg of folic acid per day, you should always consult with your physician.