B vitamins found to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia

High doses of B vitamins improved patients’ overall mental health in multiple studies.

Schizophrenia patients taking high doses of B vitamins along with their standard treatment were found in a recent study to experience added improvements. Affecting one percent of the population, schizophrenia is a debilitating disorder that makes it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. Treatment with antipsychotic drugs is typically effective in the short-term, but long-term outcomes are poor—80 percent of patients relapse within five years. A growing body of research is exploring ways to improve these outcomes, and nutritional supplements are one promising approach. But results in this area have been inconsistent, leading the authors of the review to examine outcomes across multiple studies.

“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 some patients. This could be an important advance, given that new treatments for this condition are so desperately needed," said lead author Joseph Firth.

The authors of the study reviewed 18 clinical trials, examining a total of 832 patients receiving antipsychotic treatment for schizophrenia. While vitamin C and zinc seemed effective in some trials, B vitamins stood out as beneficial across multiple studies. “Currently, only B vitamins have been found to be effective on a meta-analytic level. Studies which use high-dose B vitamins, or combine multiple B vitamins, seem to be most effective,” said Firth. In these trials, patients saw improvements in total symptom scores, a standard measure of overall mental health. Those in the early years of the illness were found to benefit most.

Firth says it’s too early to tell whether vitamin B deficiency could play a role in causing schizophrenia. Large-scale studies have implicated vitamin D deficiency, particularly neonatally, in increased schizophrenia risk. However, there is insufficient evidence on B vitamins. “There is currently very little knowledge about if and how B vitamin deficiencies increase schizophrenia risk,” said Firth.

Firth cautions that, because the results of the studies he examined are inconsistent, further replication studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions. But he believes they do suggest that more research into B vitamins and other nutritional therapies is worthwhile: “Further investigation of the role of nutrition in the pathology of schizophrenia can tell us how nutrient-based interventions may be used to enhance recovery in this population, and be potentially beneficial for the millions of patients who experience these conditions worldwide.”

Featured image: A model of vitamin B12. Courtesy of Christopher Brown