By Marco Torres
We cannot escape the reality that in developed nations, people are often overfed but undernourished — with damaging results.
Vitamin B is a dietary powerhouse, boosting energy levels and enhancing performance of nearly every system in the body. B vitamins are required for cognitive function, as well as proper functioning of the methylation cycle, monoamine production, DNA synthesis, and maintenance of phospholipids such as myelin.
Now, a growing body of literature links poor dietary choices not only to brain health and cognitive function, but to an increased risk of chronic psychiatric illness.
A 2017 review of worldwide studies has found that add-on treatment with high-dose B-vitamins (including B6, B8 and B12) can significantly reduce symptoms of schizophrenia — more than standard treatments alone. The research, conducted on the effect of vitamin and mineral supplements on symptoms of schizophrenia, was published in Psychological Medicine, one of the world’s leading psychology journals.
Depression can be one of the first presenting symptoms of B-vitamin deficiency, and the neuropsychiatric symptoms of B12 deficiency can precede the development of anaemia and other symptoms. And yet, many health care professionals would be shocked to learn that B12 deficiency can actually cause psychosis. Indeed, the connection between mental health and B12 deficiency is staggering — and yet it appears screening is rarely carried out.
When used as an adjunctive with antipsychotic medications, certain vitamins and minerals may be effective for improving symptomatic outcomes of schizophrenia, by restoring nutritional deficits, reducing oxidative stress, and modulating neurological pathways.
Elaborating on the research published in Psychological Medicine, lead author Joseph Firth, based at the University’s Division of Psychology and Mental Health, said:
“Looking at all of the data from clinical trials of vitamin and mineral supplements for schizophrenia to-date, we can see that B vitamins effectively improve outcomes for patients. B deficiencies play a causative role in mental illness and exacerbate psychiatric symptoms which can result in poor nutrition and vitamin insufficiency — defined as subclinical deficiency, which may hamper recovery. This could be an important advance, given that new treatments for this condition are so desperately needed.”
B-Vitamins and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is among the most disabling and costly long-term mental health conditions worldwide.
Currently, treatment is based around the administration of antipsychotic drugs. Although patients typically experience remission of symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions within the first few months of treatment, long-term outcomes are poor; 80% of patients relapse within five years. But this research opens up new pathways of investigation.
Vitamins B2, B6, B9, and B12 directly impact the functioning of the methylation cycle. Deficiencies pertain to brain function, as neurotransmitters, myelin, and active glutathione are dependent on one-carbon metabolism.
The researchers reviewed all randomised clinical trials that reported effects of vitamin or mineral supplements on psychiatric symptoms in people with schizophrenia. And, in what is the first meta-analysis carried out on this topic, they identified 18 clinical trials with a combined total of 832 patients receiving antipsychotic treatment for schizophrenia.
B-vitamin interventions which used higher dosages or combined several vitamins were consistently effective for reducing psychiatric symptoms, whereas those which used lower doses were ineffective.
The available evidence also suggests that B-vitamin supplements may be most beneficial when implemented early on, as b-vitamins were most likely to reduce symptoms when used in studies of patients with shorter illness durations. Firth added:
“High-dose B-vitamins may be useful for reducing residual symptoms in people with schizophrenia, although there were significant differences among the findings of the studies we looked at. There is also some indication that these overall effects may be driven by larger benefits among subgroups of patients who have relevant genetic or dietary nutritional deficiencies.
Co-author Jerome Sarris, Professor of Integrative Mental Health at Western Sydney University, added:
This builds on existing evidence of other food-derived supplements, such as certain amino-acids, that are also beneficial for people with schizophrenia. These new findings also fit with our latest research examining how multi-nutrient treatments can reduce depression and other disorders.”
The research team say more studies are now needed to discover how nutrients act on the brain to improve mental health, and to measure effects of nutrient-based treatments on other outcomes such as brain functioning and metabolic health.