Mental health crises are highly pervasive and intricate problems to resolve; however, a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry has discovered a new, affordable, and accessible treatment that has the potential to reduce suicide attempts and self-harm.
The research drew data from 866,586 US patients and investigated the association between folic acid [vitamin B9] treatments and suicide attempts over a two-year timespan.
A New Discovery Reduces Suicide Attempts
The scientists discovered that those who took the supplements experienced a 44% reduction in suicidal and self-harm attacks. The team also found no side effects, and this inexpensive and straightforward therapy could be crucial in saving lives.
The authors became interested in studying folic acid as a potential treatment after reading a previous study examining the association between the risk of attempting suicide and 922 medications, finding that these supplements strongly correlated with decreased mental health crises.
Scientists initially believed that the relationship was due to pregnancy. “When we first saw this result, we thought it was pregnancy. Pregnant women take folic acid, and pregnant women tend to have a low suicide rate, so it’s just a false association,” Robert Gibbons, the lead author of the study, explains to SciTech Daily.
However, the team noticed this assumption was incorrect when they analyzed only the men’s data and saw the same effect.
Because of this, they devoted a study solely to folic acid and considered other factors that might reduce suicide attempts, such as age, gender, previous diagnoses of mental illness, taking other medications, or health problems that affect the way the body processes supplements.
Even after accounting for all of this, taking folic acid was still linked to fewer suicide attempts, which suggests that the relationship is causal and not just a coincidence.
Another key finding is that the risk decreases the longer a person takes folic acid. Over the two years they were followed, the risk of patients attempting suicide decreased by 5 percent each month.
The authors also considered the possibility that people who take vitamin supplements generally want to improve their health and are, therefore, less likely to attempt suicide. To investigate this potential, they analyzed another supplement, vitamin B12, similarly, but there appeared to be no relationship between this vitamin and suicide risk.
Despite the promising data, the researchers are now conducting another study to confirm whether this association is truly causal.
Gibbons RD, Hur K, Lavigne JE, Mann JJ. Association Between Folic Acid Prescription Fills and Suicide Attempts and Intentional Self-harm Among Privately Insured US Adults. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 28, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.2990