The study found a link between folic acid supplements and a 44% reduction in suicide attempts and self-harm.
A new study by the University of Chicago has investigated the relationship between folic acid treatment and suicide attempts over two years. The researchers found that patients with prescriptions for folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, experienced a 44% reduction in suicidal events (suicide attempts and intentional self-harm).
The study used data from the health insurance claims of 866,586 patients. The researchers focused on folic acid and accounted for many possible confounding factors, including age, sex, mental health diagnoses, other central nervous system drugs, conditions affecting folic acid metabolism, and more. Even after adjusting for all these factors, those with a folic acid prescription were still associated with a decreased risk of attempting suicide.
The researchers also found that the longer a person took folic acid, the lower their risk of suicide attempt tended to be. Each month of being prescribed folic acid was associated with an additional 5% decrease in the risk of suicide attempts during the 24-month follow-up period of their study.
Since research in this area is relatively new, the researchers cannot yet say whether the relationship between folic acid and suicidal events is causal; therefore, it is still unknown if taking folic acid will directly cause a person’s risk of suicide to become lower. The researchers are following up this study with a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test whether folic acid directly lowers the risk of suicidal events, including ideation, attempts, and completion.
In response to this article, Dr Joshua Roffman, Director of the Early Brain Development Initiative at Massachusetts General, said,
“This is an important study that links the use of folic acid – a B-vitamin – with lower risk of suicide attempts in a very large group of patients in the US, using insurance databases. Suicide is a devastating outcome, and the possibility that an intervention that is inexpensive, safe, and widely available could prevent some occurrences of suicide could have a substantial public health impact. This possibility is further supported by previous work from our lab and others that suggests the protective effects of prenatal folic acid exposure on other mental health outcomes, such as autism and schizophrenia, in young people.
That said, these new results show association but not causation, and it will take prospective, randomized controlled studies involving individuals who are at risk for suicide, to provide definitive answers on whether folic acid can protect against self-harm. Given the benign nature of the intervention and the relative paucity of medication-based interventions that show evidence for suicide prevention, the imperative to conduct these trials is very clear.”
MQ funded Dr Joshua Roffman and his team at Harvard University for a study that explored for the first time if exposure to folic acid at the earliest opportunity – when the baby is developing in the womb – could protect the brain against the development of psychotic symptoms. You can read more about this study here.
If you are having a mental health emergency or are worried about someone else, please reach out for support. Here’s a list of emergency contact numbers, helplines and organisations that may be able to help.