Can Folic Acid Save Lives?
A recent article from Sept. 28, 2022 in JAMA Psychiatry caught my attention for a number of reasons. The study is titled "Association Between Folic Acid Prescription Fills and Suicide Attempts and Intentional Self-harm Among Privately Insured US Adults", and it focuses on the possibility that folic acid decreases suicidal behavior. This sounds too simple to be true, and it may only be part of the overall story. However, the data from 866,586 adults in a database of US medical claims for patients with private health insurance seems to reflect a correlation between folic acid (or folate, vitamin B9) prescription fills and a significant decrease in suicide attempts.
This is a fascinating look into how a vitamin may directly impact our health, whether it is physical or mental health. Studies show that typical Americans are deficient in a number of important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients (see the chart for details). It is estimated that over 70% of the population is folic acid deficient. And this study reinforces the notion that these deficiencies may have impacts beyond what we have previously thought. It also shows that a simple vitamin addition may have a more profound influence in our bodies than prescribing pharmaceuticals that can have a multitude of side effects and unintended consequences. How amazing that a vitamin may save lives and potentially keep people from taking a prescribed medication! This is definitely a win-win scenario.
In addition, the topic warrants further discussion on why we are so deficient in such a wide-array of healthy substances. The typical Western diet is partly to blame, between fast food and heavily processed items, both of which are deprived in nutrient value. Our farming system may also be to blame, as heavily farmed soils become depleted of nutrients over decades and leave our foods low in these same nutrients. These are both reasons why adding supplements may be necessary to get all of the vitamins and minerals we so desperately need.
Now this is just an initial look at this data, and further research would be necessary to prove this correlation between folate and suicide prevention. But it is still quite promising, and hopefully will lead to greater interest in studying how vitamins and other nutrients can affect or well-being, especially over prescription drugs.