The term, vitamin, is derived from “vital amines”—amines that are vital to one’s health. Among them is vitamin B12, which many studies support its crucial role in brain development. According to a new study, low vitamin B12 levels are linked to aging, schizophrenia, and autism. The findings appear in the January edition of the journal PLOS1. The study was led by led by Richard Deth, PhD, a professor of pharmacology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The study authors note that vitamin B12 is only synthesized by certain bacteria and humans obtain it from animal source foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish and its status in the brain across the lifespan has not been previously investigated. Therefore, they conducted a study that assessed vitamin B12 levels across he human lifetime. For the study, the researchers examined the brains of more than 60 deceased individuals, ranging in age from a fetus in a late stage of gestation to 80 years. The study included 12 individuals who had autism and nine with schizophrenia.
The investigators found that the vitamin B12 levels in the brain were 10 times lower in the oldest individuals compared to the youngest, reflecting a gradual, natural, and consistent decline over the years. They explain that, for the elderly, this decline might not be a bad thing because lower levels at advanced ages may offer some degree of brain protection by slowing cellular reactions and the production of DNA-damaging chemicals called free radicals. In a previous study, Dr. Deth found that the body’s creation of biologically active forms of vitamin B12 produces free radicals as a waste product.
The researchers note that low levels of vitamin B12 can be detrimental because an extreme decrease in metabolism is not compatible with cell survival. eth said. Similarly, lower vitamin B12 levels can have negative consequences for people of younger ages because as the brain is still developing. The investigators found that the levels of vitamin B12 in the brains of young people with autism and in middle-age individuals with schizophrenia were about one-third of the levels found in similarly aged people who did not have these neurological conditions.
The people in the study with autism, who were all under age 10, had levels similar to those found in a 57-year-old. It was not clear what these low levels imply, but the researchers note that the uptake of inadequate vitamin B12 might impact the brain’s ability to establish important neural connections between regions.
The subjects with schizophrenia who were all between ages 36 and 49 had levels similar to those found in a 72-year-old. Their brains were mature by this age; however, the below-normal level may have manifested itself during adolescence, when symptoms of schizophrenia begin to appear. However, even in middle age, the lower levels may contribute to a loss of previously normal function.
Take home message:
Based on this study’s findings, it would be prudent to include vitamin B12 supplementation in your daily vitamin regimen.