(ORDO NEWS) — A large epidemiological study described over 860,000 people and showed that one long-used, affordable and safe drug cuts the risk of suicide by half.
We are talking about folic acid, or vitamin B9, which is available in almost any pharmacy. Scientists are convinced that its use for suicide prevention could soon save tens of thousands of lives.
Suicide remains one of the most common causes of death. Approximately 1.4% of all deaths in the world are associated with suicide – this corresponds to a death rate of 11.6 people per 100,000 per year.
Since the middle of the 20th century, the number of completed suicides has more than doubled, a disturbing trend that continues today.
To prevent suicide, it is necessary to take into account various aspects of this phenomenon: psychological, social and biomedical.
Among the latter are biochemical, including risk factors and, of course, drugs that can reduce the risk of suicide.
An epidemiological study conducted on data from more than 866,000 patients showed that taking such a simple and over-the-counter drug as folic acid almost halved the risk of suicide attempts – by 44%.
Folic acid belongs to the B vitamins, also known as vitamin B9. It is a water-soluble vitamin essential for the development of the immune and circulatory systems. Some derivatives of folic acid – folates – have also found use in medicine.
Vitamin B9 is available in almost any pharmacy: it is actively prescribed for anemia, gastroenteritis, radiation damage, and so on. The drug has long been known, well studied and has almost no side effects.
This distinguishes it favorably from psychopharmacological agents (antidepressants and antipsychotics), which are usually used at the risk of committing suicide or after an unsuccessful suicide attempt (in the context of depressive and other mental disorders).
Against this background, the significant effect of a “plain” drug on the likelihood of suicide seems to be a big surprise. Although even before the start of this work, scientists knew about the association of folic acid with a decrease in the frequency of suicide attempts.
The study, which is the subject of an article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry , has brought certainty to this issue. Scientists from the University of Chicago (USA) used medical data from insurance companies.
They selected records from more than 866,000 subjects who took folic acid tablets for two consecutive years. There have also been suicide attempts and other forms of aggression by people towards themselves.
To avoid mistakes, the researchers made adjustments for prior suicidal behavior, folic acid metabolism patterns, drugs that disrupt it, and so on.
In the meantime, the subjects of the control groups received vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) – in this case, the suicide rate did not change.
“There are no serious side effects, the drug is inexpensive and available without a prescription. It could probably save tens of thousands of lives,” said Robert Gibbons, head of the work.
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