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In vulnerable individuals, supplements may improve some symptoms of schizophrenia

B-vitamins may improve schizophrenia symptoms for some

16 April, 2013

Natural Health News — Supplementation with vitamin B12 and folic acid may reduce negative symptoms for some schizophrenia patients, according to a recent study.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that causes patients to experience delusions and hallucinations for more than six months. Delusions occur when patients lose touch with reality.

Common symptoms of schizophrenia include social withdrawal, intense anxiety, feelings of being unreal, loss of appetite, loss of hygiene, difficulty processing information, poor memory, depressed mood and sense of being controlled by outside forces.

The behaviour of schizophrenic patients varies widely. In men, symptoms of schizophrenia usually develop when patients are in their teens or 20s. Women usually develop the disorder when they are 20-30 years old.

Benefits for those with low folate levels

In a recent small study, researchers randomly assigned 140 men and women with schizophrenia from three mental health centres to receive oral supplements containing two milligrams of folic acid and 400 micrograms of vitamin B12 or placebo daily for 16 weeks.

The researchers found that overall, significant benefits from folic acid and vitamin B12 were lacking when compared to the placebo group.

However, when looking at those with a specific genetic glitch – a low-functioning variant in the MTHFR gene that affects folate metabolism – participants in the supplement group saw significant improvements in hard-to-treat schizophrenia symptoms such as withdrawal and apathy, especially if their blood levels of folate were low to begin with.

Folate – a piece of the puzzle

Folate and folic acid belong to the B-vitamin ‘family’ of nutrients. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Folic acid is well-tolerated in amounts found in fortified foods and supplements.

Previous research has shown folate deficiency to be one of the risk factors for schizophrenia, and small studies conducted in populations with folate deficiency have found symptomatic improvements with supplementation (for a review on dietary factors and schizophrenia see this paper).

The authors of the current study concluded that folate and vitamin B12 supplementation may be beneficial for some schizophrenia patients, supporting the view that a personalised approach to treatment based on genetic variations may be beneficial.

“Even small effects of folate and vitamin B12 supplementation could be clinically meaningful, though, given the disability associated with negative symptoms, the lack of available treatments, and the minimal apparent adverse effects of vitamin supplementation,” the researchers observed.