Can Vitamins Combat Schizophrenia?

Thursday, 07 Mar 2013 11:58 AM

By Nick Tate

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Adding vitamin B12 and folate supplements to standard medical treatment can help ease some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, a new study shows.
 
Mental-health researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital found a trial of such complementary treatment involving more than 100 patients was effective in reducing some of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia — including apathy, social withdrawal, and a lack of emotional expressiveness.
 
While the level of improvement was modest, the researchers said the results were more significant in individuals with specific genetic makeups, suggesting it may be an effective tool in treating some patients.

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"The symptoms of schizophrenia are complex, and antipsychotic medications provide no relief for some of the most disabling parts of the illness. These include negative symptoms, which can be particularly devastating," noted Joshua Roffman, M.D., an MGH Department of Psychiatry specialist who helped conduct the trial.
 
"Our finding that folate plus vitamin B12 supplementation can improve negative symptoms opens a new potential avenue for treatment of schizophrenia. Because treatment effects differed based on which genetic variants were present in each participant, the results also support a personalized medical approach to treating schizophrenia."
 
The study, published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, tracked the effects of the supplements on 140 patients with schizophrenia at community mental health centers in Boston, Rochester, N.Y., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

The researchers noted folate (folic acid) is an essential nutrient involved in genetic process and the synthesis of brain chemicals. Past studies have suggested that folate deficiency during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of schizophrenia among babies.
 
For the new study, half the patients were randomly assigned to take the supplements, along with their meds, while the others received an inactive dummy pill.
 
The results showed those receiving folate and vitamin B12 had improvement in negative symptoms, particularly in the patients with variants in cetain genes.
 
"For participants who did show a benefit, it took the full 16 weeks of treatment for that benefit to appear,"

Dr. Roffman said. "While we don't know why this is the case, changes in gene expression — which take time — are a likely explanation.”

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