In a recent study, researchers investigated the potential relationship between folate and vitamin B12 status and incident depressive symptoms in a representative cohort of community-dwelling older individuals.

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, and researchers used data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, a nationally population-based representative sample of community-dwelling Irish adults aged 50 years and older. Researchers observed that those with deficient low B12 status had a 51% increased likelihood of developing depressive symptoms over 4 years.

The researchers indicated that the study revealed that low B12 status is correlated with a significantly greater risk of depressive symptoms over a 4-year period, but no such relationships were observed for folate. They also noted that their findings remained strong even after controlling for relevant adjusting factors, such as physical activity, chronic disease burden, vitamin D status, cardiovascular disease, and antidepressant use.

The findings also revealed that other factors that influence micronutrient status in older adults included obesity, medication use, smoking, wealth, gender, and geographic location. Researchers observed that as age increased, the risk of depression decreased, and this finding was previously reported.

The authors concluded that low B12 status was associated with a significantly augmented risk of depressive symptoms over a 4-year period in a large population representative study of older adults. No associations were observed for folate. They wrote, "These findings are relevant given the high occurrence of incident depression and the high levels of low-deficient status of B12 in older adults. These observations also provide reassurance for food policy makers that fortification of foods to increase levels of these vitamins could have the potential for benefits in prevention of this condition. However, future prospective studies and randomized trials using an agreed set of harmonized measures and blood biomarkers are needed to fully ascertain the utility of vitamin B12 in relation to the prevention or delay in the onset of depression in older adults."

In a statement, lead author, Dr. Eamon Laird, indicated, "This study is highly relevant given the high prevalence of incident depression in older adults living in Ireland, and especially following evidence to show that one in eight older adults report high levels of low B12 deficiency rates. There is a growing momentum to introduce a mandatory food fortification policy of B-vitamins in Europe and the UK, especially since mandatory food fortification with folic acid in the US has showed positive results, with folate deficiency or low status rates of just 1.2% in those aged 60 years and older. Our findings should provide further reassurance for policy makers to show that a food fortification policy could offer a potential means to aid the prevention of depressive symptoms in older adults and benefit overall health through the enrichment of food such as breakfast cereals with B12 vitamins and folate."

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