A new “food-drug” for depression?

Which term used to describe manufactured natural vitamins by pharmaceutical companies pisses you off more…”medical food” or “food drug”?  Drug companies are getting the memo that nature is better…and they are determined to manufacture nature.

I'M SadEveryone gets “the blues” every now and again, but clinical depression is different.  For some, the effects are catastrophic.   Depression affects many with cancer diagnoses for a variety of reasons.  There are many non-pharmeceutical techniques like exercise, mediation, dietary changes that will greatly improve depression, but for some, medication is necessary to normalize the chemicals in the brain.

Now I know what you’re thinking…The Savvy Sister doesn’t really like drugs.  Well, you’re right, but drugs have their place in some cases.

But when is a drug not a drug? Enter Pamlab who has been marketing Deplin (L-methylfolate) … a new “food-drug” they claim helps depression and also helps anti-depressants work better.  The reason it’s being called a “food-drug” is that it is actually the metabolized form of folic acid.  Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and is found in many food items like leafy greens, citrus fruits, grains and nuts, and it vital to the production of dopamine,  serotonin, and norepinephrine– the main chemicals that your body manufactures to help your brain function properly and stabilizes your mood.  It is the imbalance of these chemicals that give rise to depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.  Some studies indicate that there is a relationship between low folate and depression, but it’s a question of what came first.  Based on the studies I have read it does appear that increasing the folic acid intake improves depression symptoms.

When you eat folic acid in foods, your body converts that substance into L-methylfolate which helps to form tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), a crucial cofactor in the synthesis of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine …vital brain chemicals.  But some people aren’t able to convert the folic acid into L-methylfolate.  So no matter how much folic acid they consume or how many folic acid tablets they take, they can’t make the chemical that they need to then produce the needed brain chemicals that are needed for health…or so it is assumed.  But BH4 can be generated in at least three ways unrelated to L-methylfolate, and it is unknown how significant the L-methylfolate pathway is. (Ponzone A et al, Med Res Rev 2004;24(2)127–150).

That’s of no interest to the makers of Deplin.  They say taking the folic acid in the metabolized form, Deplin, helps those with depression …..according to Pamlab of course.  I find it interesting that pharmaceutical companies can manufacture a vitamin (essentially) and then make claims about it and charge a crazy amount for it.  (the cost is $68-$110/month for the lowest dose and insurance usually doesn’t cover because it’s a “food-drug” not a drug) The science behind the food-drug Deplin is based on a few small studies  done by Pamlab.  It’s great for the pharma company because this “food drug” doesn’t have to measure up to the FDA standards for regular pharmaceuticals because it’s not in the same category.  Their claim that Deplin can improve depression and improve the effectiveness of anti-depressants may be true, but it may be just as effective to take regular old $0.99/bottle-of-250-count folic acid from your local health food store.

happy_pillsYou see, to date, the drug company has never tested Deplin against plain ole folic acid.   (hmmm… afraid of the results maybe?) You can’t even read the package insert (info that by law accompanies all drugs) without filling out a form online.

There is a blood test you can have done to see if you are one of the millions that isn’t metabolizing folic acid correctly, putting you at risk for depression.  If you suffer from depression, it may very well be worth the needle stick.  There are also blood tests for basic blood health which would be very valuable to have done if you are diagnosed with any illness, physical or mental.

Do I think that there are a lot of people who are stressed and overwhelmed? yes.

Do I think that anti-depressants are over prescribed? Yes.

Do I think that there are some cases where pharmaceuticals can have a life changing effect and are needed? Yes.

Signs of depression are:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

(according to the National Institute of Mental Health)

If you have several of these symptoms, you should discuss it with your health care provider and certainly discussing the need to get tested for folic acid metabolites would make prefect sense.


TAKE NOTE of the way the US government is categorizing these vitamins….food drugs.  The thought and belief of those who are in the vitamin industry is that it is the goal of the US government to regulate all vitamins and list them as “food drugs”.  That would make it harder to purchase and harder for individuals to be able to treat themselves. (The audacity of people even thinking they know what is best for them!) Stay tuned!

I have my own theories about folic acid and its metabolites.  It is a fact that poor diet and liver fatigue cause poor conversion of folic acid to L-methylfolate. Obestiry is at an all time high …30% of the USA is obese!  We’re addicted to fast food. Poor bowel habits…Our livers are overworked from too much sugar & fat and not enough exercise.  Depression is also at an all time high.  20 million prescriptions PER MONTH in the USA! Nuff said.

On a non-related note, women who are of child bearing age should get enough folate to prevent spinal birth defects. It would be wise for them to take a folic acid supplement.

Bottom line: 

If you are going through a rough patch in life or are going through treatment for cancer  and need a boost, look to a healthier lifestyle…particularly eating less sugar, fats, and animal products, and exercise along with some form of meditation (here is a great meditation CD just for depression)  It would certainly do you some benefit to increase green leafy veggies, citrus fruits (not fruit juice) and whole grains to increase the dietary folate and other B vitamins.  Remember, your body uses the vitamins in food better than the pill form.

The body, not the galaxy, is the final frontier.  There is more we don’t know about the way our bodies work than we do know.  There are thousands of chemical reactions that depend on another thousand chemical reactions that make the substances in our bodies that we know about that have to do with normal functioning.  There are, I’m sure, another thousand chemicals that are made in our bodies that we have yet to discover.  It’s not as easy as just saying “take a pill and your depression is gone”–natural or otherwise.  We are each individuals, and we have a responsibility to know our own bodies and get help when we need it.

If you exhibit several of the symptoms for clinical depression and you feel you need help, see your health care provider to get your blood tested to see if you have a deficiency.   Based on the results of the blood work, your healthcare provider can offer a solution.  It is up to you, however, to weigh all benefits and risks of treatment and make an informed decision.  Be wary of any healthcare provider who wants to write a prescription for a drug without discussing some causes of your depression first.

Treatment for depression works better when lifestyle changes and medication are supplemented by some form of therapy, either in a group setting or individual.


Deplin: Is it just folate by another name?

WebMD facts on Deplin

Deplin research presentation 

Deplin: The real deal?

Categories: happiness, health, health and wellness, vitamin suppliments, vitamins

Tags: , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Really great article. Very helpful for someone who might be experiencing depressions. I educated myself reading it and I might be a help if I meet somebody with similar problems. Nice!

  2. I will certainly be sharing this with my clients!

  3. Brilliant piece – well-written and well-researched (as always). I don’t think we have this food-drug here in the UK but I will bookmark this in case people ask me about it.

  4. In the book THE MOOD CURE by Julia Ross M.A. you can find very detailed info on the different amino acids (no drugs) and how they alliviate depression when combined with B vitamins and simple dietary changes. These amino acids, like 5-HTP, GABA, Glutamine, DLPA and others are affordable supplements anyone can take EXCEPT those who are on antidepressants.

    There are detailed 4-step programs in the book to identify and rebalance the emotional chemistry that is out of sync when people feel depressed.

    I have personally watched again and again how fast proper brain chemistry and emotional well-being can be achieved by following the suggestions in the book.

  5. Great post! Thanks for shedding light on this ~ it’s timely in my life! xo


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