Researchers from the University of Western Australia in Crawley examined whether vitamins B-12, B-6, and folate might reduce the severity of depressive symptoms and the incidence of clinically significant depression.

First, the details.

  • 299 elderly men, free of clinically significant depression were randomly assigned to take B-12 400 mcg + folic acid 2 mg + B-6 25 mg per day or placebo for 2 years.
  • The Beck Depression Inventory [BDI] score was the primary outcome measured.

And, the results.

  • There was no significant difference in BDI scores between the groups.
  • Participants taking the vitamins were 24% more likely to remain free of depression, but the difference between the groups was not statistically significant.
  • At the end of the study, 84% of men treated with vitamins and 79% of those treated with placebo remained free of depressive symptoms.
  • B12, folate, and homocysteine blood levels were similar in men with and without depression.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Treatment with B-12, folic acid, and B-6 is no better than placebo at reducing the severity of depressive symptoms or the incidence of clinically significant depression over a period of 2 years in older men.”

In contrast to this, Dr. Daniel Hill-Flavin, a psychiatrist from St. Louis, Missouri writing on tells us that in an earlier study of more than 3000 older adults with vitamin B-12 deficiency, depressive symptoms were more common compared to seniors who were not deficient in vitamin B-12. However, the reason for this was unclear.

The groups in theses studies weren’t identical. But in treating any disease, it’s important to correct underlying abnormalities that might contribute (even a small amount) to the main diagnosis.

It’s possible that the absence of a B-12 deficiency at the start of the most recent study was a factor in the “lack of response” to the vitamins.

8/22/08 14:45 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.