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Could B Vitamins Have Power to Help Psychiatric Problems?

Get To Know Your Vitamin BIf you have a version of a key gene in B vitamin folate metabolisation, it could make a huge difference to your mental wellness. This is according to a new study, which found that the gene could help you to better respond to vitamin supplements intended to treat negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

After tracking 140 people with schizophrenia for 16 weeks, the researchers discovered that those with the so-called high-functioning FOLH1 gene variant were more responsive to folic acid and B12 supplements, compared to those with the low-functioning FOLH1 variant. Dr Joshua Roffman, the study’s lead author from Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, explained, ‘That’s a gene that actually controls the digestion of folate (or folic acid) into the bloodstream.’

Folate is a B vitamin used for manufacturing neurotransmitters. These send signals throughout your brain and body, and can be obtained through your diet from leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and fortified grain products. However, a deficiency in this B vitamin can drastically affect your mental wellbeing, as Roffman noted that, since the 1960s, folate deficiencies have been tied to the development of schizophrenia, with spikes in cases of the mental disorder being observed after famines in China and the Netherlands, for example.

However, this study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to look at the effects of folate supplements in a large population of people with the condition – covering several medical centres in Massachusetts, New York and Michigan. It targeted so-called negative symptoms in schizophrenia patients, which include apathy, withdrawal and an inability to display emotion. There are more well-known and severe symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, but the ones the researchers evaluated can still lead to significant impairment, because they are unaffected by traditional antipsychotic drugs.

The study found that those with the high-functioning version of the FOLH1gene seemed to be able to process the supplements best, and saw their negative symptom score drop by about 5 points, compared to no significant change in the placebo group members with high-functioning FOLH1 genes. Roffman noted, ‘The level of symptom change we saw in this study would be detectable… but it’s definitely a modest change.’

Dr Scott Stroup, a professor of psychiatry at New York’s Columbia University who was not involved with the research, ‘There’s nothing that’s widely accepted that’s demonstrated to help. So there is a big need for this kind of work.’  However, Stroup added, ‘I think the impact on negative symptoms was pretty small, but the paper itself is important.’

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This entry was posted on April 25, 2013 by and tagged , , .

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