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Folic Acid May Help Decrease Risk of Suicide, Study Finds

Folic Acid May Help Decrease Risk of Suicide, Study Finds
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  • A recent study investigated of taking folic acid was linked to a decrease in suicide attempts.
  • Over 12 million adults thought about suicide – with 1.2 million actually attempting to end their lives, in 2020 according to data from the CDC.
  • Researchers found people with a folic acid prescription experienced a 44% reduction in suicidal events.

New research published last week in JAMA Psychiatry investigated if taking the inexpensive vitamin folic acid may help reduce the risk of suicide.

“The importance of our study is that we have identified an inexpensive, widely available potential suicide prevention tool that has minimal if any side-effects,” lead author Robert GibbonsPhD, Blum-Riese Professor of Biostatistics and Medicine at the University of Chicago, told Healthline.

In 2020, over 12 million adults thought about suicide – with 1.2 million actually attempting to end their lives, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Folic acid is a type of B vitamin,” said Nicole Roach, a registered dietician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Many foods contain folate or will be enriched with folic acid.”

She added that this nutrient is naturally high in foods such as vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, mustard greens, and asparagus.

“Other foods which contain folate include nuts, beans, oranges and orange juice,” she continued.

According to Roach, while these foods are naturally high in folate, there are other foods that will be fortified with folate, which means that while not naturally a good source, the vitamin is added during the manufacturing process.

“These foods include enriched breads, flours, pastas, rice, and cornmeal,” she said.

Roach emphasized the importance of making sure you consume enough folic acid, because it plays an important role in cell functioning and growth.

She said we typically need about 400 micrograms of folate per day, while people who are pregnant should aim for 600 micrograms per day and those who are breastfeeding should aim for 500 micrograms per day.

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Gibbons and team collected the data of almost 870,000 patients from a US pharmacoepidemiological database of medical claims for patients filling a folic acid (vitamin B9) prescription from 2012 to 2017.

This process was then repeated with a control supplement (vitamin B-12).

Over 80 percent of patients in this study were female, and a little over 10 percent were aged 60 years or older.

Researchers found the group that filled a folic acid prescription experienced a 44% reduction in suicidal events, which includes suicide attempts and intentional self-harm.

Researchers also found that the longer people took folic acid, the lower their risk tended to be. Each month of taking folic acid was associated with an extra five percent decrease in the risk of attempted suicide during a 24-month follow-up period.

“We were surprised by the strong association between reduction is suicide attempt risk with increased duration of folic acid treatment, said Gibbons. “We were also pleased to see that our negative control, vitamin B12 showed no association with suicide attempt.”

He said that a randomized clinical trial of folic acid is already in the works.

“If confirmed in a large-scale randomized clinical trial, which we are pursuing with one of our nation’s largest healthcare providers, it could have the potential to save thousands of lives,” said Gibbons

Naomi Torres MackiePhD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital said the impact of vitamin deficiency on mood has been previously studied, with B vitamins being the most commonly examined, particularly B12.

“There have also previously been studies on folate and depression, she said. “Being mindful not to conflate depression and suicide, this study only looked at the latter, which is an important contribution to separate out and examine suicide in particular.”

Experts stress that more study is needed and that people in mental health crisis or who have thoughts of suicide should immediately seek medical help.

Torres-Mackie noted that it’s important that people who have thoughts of suicide are seen by a mental health professional who has training in suicide and crisis management.

“The specific way in which suicidal ideation is treated depends on the underlying cause, as thoughts of suicide can be related to a mental health condition, commonly psychosis, or depression.”

This study seems to have promised,” said Torres-Mackie.

However, she cautioned that more study is needed before folic acid can be accepted as a new way to prevent suicide.

“There are some barriers for access to traditional forms of suicide treatment, but if folic acid can be helpful in reducing suicide attempts, it has the potential to provide help on a large-scale basis to individuals who very much need it,” she said .

Torres-Mackie cautioned that “much more” research is necessary before getting to that point.

“And as the authors point out, a large-scale randomized clinical trial is needed before a causal relationship can be determined or before treatment recommendations should include folic acid,” Torres-Mackie concluded.

dr. Alex Dimitriudouble board-certified in Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine and Brainfood®said that people who have thoughts of suicide are typically treated with a combination of medication and therapy.

“Lithium, ketamine, and anti-depressants have been shown to reduce suicidal behavior,” he continued. “I believe that neuroplasticity – our ability to adapt and think differently, is essential, especially when someone is in a crisis-like state such as suicidal ideation.”

He explained that certain medications might improve neuroplasticity.

“In the case of folic acid, it plays a key role in the formation of various neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine and even BDNF – brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is like ‘miracle grow’ for certain brain areas,” said Dimitriu.

He considered the study “impressive.”

“Given the low downside or side effect profile of using folic acid, I would certainly give it a go,” Dimitriu said.

“Always seek professional help with anyone having suicidal thoughts,” said Dimitriu. “If it is truly urgent, safety first, call 911 or get the person to an emergency room to ensure safety.”

He added that in his years of experience work, he cannot underscore how many people, who considered suicide, were so happy to be alive months later.

“Time heals, and you have to be safe to allow the healing to occur,” Dimitriu pointed out. “We live in a time of treatment options, use them.”

New research finds that the B-vitamin called folic acid may reduce risk of self-harm or attempted suicide by up to 44 percent.

Experts say that this might be due to the vitamin’s crucial role in brain health.

They also say much more research is needed before folic acid can be considered a viable way to prevent suicide.

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