Folic acid and psychopathology

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1989;13(6):841-63. doi: 10.1016/0278-5846(89)90037-7.


1. The incidence of folic acid deficiency is high in patients with various psychiatric disorders including depression, dementia and schizophrenia. 2. In epileptics on anticonvulsants, folate deficiency often occurs because anticonvulsants inhibit folate absorption. In these patients folate deficiency is often associated with psychiatric symptoms. 3. In medical patients psychiatric symptoms occur more frequently, and in psychiatric patients symptoms are more severe, in those with folate deficiency than in those with normal levels. 4. Many open studies have demonstrated therapeutic effects of folate administration on psychiatric symptoms in folate deficient patients. 5. Several placebo-controlled studies have not demonstrated therapeutic effects, possibly because the doses they used (15-20 mg/day) are known to be toxic and to cause mental symptoms. 6. Two placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of folic acid administration, one in patients with a syndrome of psychiatric and neuropsychological changes associated with folate deficiency and the other in patients on long-term lithium therapy. In the latter study the dose was only 0.2 mg/day. 7. Folic acid deficiency is known to lower brain S-adenosylmethionine and 5-hydroxytryptamine. S-Adenosylmethionine, which has antidepressant properties, raises brain 5-hydroxytryptamine. Thus, depression associated with folate deficiency is probably related to low brain 5HT. 8. S-Adenosylmethionine is involved in many methylation reactions, including methylation of membrane phospholipids, which influences membrane properties. This may explain the wide variety of symptoms associated with folate deficiency. 9. Because the costs and risks associated with low doses of folic acid (up to 0.5 mg/day) are small, folic acid should be given as an adjunct in the treatment of patients with unipolar or bipolar affective disorders and anorexia, epileptics on anticonvulsants, geriatric patients with mental symptoms and patients with gastrointestinal disorders who exhibit psychiatric symptoms. 10. Although the majority of the patients listed above will probably not be helped by folic acid therapy, a significant minority are likely to have folate-responsive symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Folic Acid / physiology*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Folic Acid