'Malnourished brain' can lead to, intensify depression

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PHOENIX -- Depression is extremely common, affecting some 18 million Americans.

"It's considered the No. 1 cause of worldwide morbidity and mortality," explained Dr. Thomas Gazda, M.D., a staff psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital.

Recently released numbers indicate that more than one in 10 Americans are taking some kind of antidepressant, but those medications don't always work.

Gazda explained how a malnourished brain -- one that does not get enough folate or folic acid -- can lead to or exacerbate depression.

Leafy greens and veggies are great sources of folic acid, but some patients cannot properly break down the nutrients into what the brain needs to make the three major neurotransmitters -- serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine -- that are believed to help control moods.

"We've found that about 2/3 of patients who suffer from depression have some deficiency in their folate system," Gazda said.

Most people have experienced some level of depression at some point in their lives.

"It's considered a sign of health to be able to be depressed because it means that you care about things," Gazda explained. When that depression goes on for too long, it could mean something else is going on.

Symptoms of depression include lack of energy, feeling sad and hopeless, loss of interest in things that used to be fun or pleasurable, sleep disturbances, and an inability to concentrate. "This can cause tremendous suffering," Gazda said. "It's again why depression is considered to be the No. 1 worldwide cause of morbidity and mortality by the World Health Organization. It can lead to suicide."

Gazda said a "medical food" called Deplin® made by Pamlab can help those with folate deficiency, giving the brain what it needs to produce those essential neurotransmitters.

A medical food is defined as a food specifically formulated to be administered under a doctor's supervision and is intended to help manage a disease or condition, addressing "the distinct metabolic requirements of patients."

Deplin® contains L-methylfolate, the active form of the vitamin folate. According to Gazda, it's a natural biologically active compound with few side effects. It's designed to work in conjunction with antidepressants, giving the drugs a boost.

To learn more about depression, visit NAMI.org, the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.