As schizophrenia does not yet have a cure, the standard treatment options available focus on eliminating the symptoms. A new, large-scale review of existing research suggests that B vitamins can reduce symptoms of schizophrenia.
The debilitating mental health condition includes severe symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, but also cognitive dysfunction and agitated body movements. Additionally, so-called negative symptoms range from not taking pleasure in daily activities anymore, to reduced speaking, reduced emotional expression, and the inability to engage in activities.
Available treatment options focus on eliminating the symptoms rather than the disease, as what causes the condition remains unknown. Antipsychotics, together with psychosocial treatments, are commonly prescribed to schizophrenia patients.
Antipsychotic drugs appear to be effective within the first few months of treatment, but long-term outcomes seem to be poor. Nearly 80 percent of patients experience a relapse of symptoms such as hallucinations and delusional thinking.
A new – and first of its kind – meta-analysis of current research suggests that in addition to these standard treatments, a high dose of B vitamins may be more helpful in reducing schizophrenia symptoms than conventional treatments on their own.
The new research was led by Joseph Firth, from the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom – and was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Firth and colleagues reviewed all of the randomized trials available that examined the effects of supplemental vitamins and minerals in schizophrenia patients. This amounted to 18 clinical trials and a total of 832 psychiatric patients that were under antipsychotic treatment.
The research indicates that taken in high doses, B vitamins – such as B-6, B-8, and B-12 – can significantly reduce schizophrenia symptoms. Additionally, a combined dose of several vitamins was shown to have the same beneficial effect. However, low doses of the vitamins were revealed to be ineffective.
Furthermore, the analysis showed that vitamin B supplements are most effective when taken early on in the development of the disease. The studies reviewed showed B vitamins to be most beneficial in patients whose illness lasted the shortest amount of time.
Joseph Firth comments on the study he led:
“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.”
However, Firth cautions that the studies reviewed yielded significantly different results. He also adds that “there is some indication these overall effects may be driven by larger benefits among subgroups of patients who have relevant genetic or dietary nutritional deficiencies.”
Jerome Sarris, a professor of integrative mental health at Western Sydney University in Australia and co-author of the review, also weighs in on the findings:
“This builds on existing evidence of other food-derived supplements, such as certain amino-acids, [being] 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 researchers note that more studies are needed to understand exactly how nutrients impact the brain and how they can improve mental health, cognitive functioning, and metabolic health.