Low levels of vitamin B12 may be linked with autism and schizophrenia in both young and elderly people, according to a new study.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is very important for the normal functioning of the nervous system and brain, as well as for blood formation. Some foods – mostly derived from animal sources – are a natural source of B12 due to bacterial symbiosis.
In the new study – published last month in the journal PLOS ONE – scientists analysed the brains of sixty deceased individuals, of which nine had schizophrenia and twelve had autism. The people ranged in age from a foetus (in a late pregnancy stage) to eighty years.
Richard Deth, a professor of pharmacology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said that this is the first study to look at the levels of vitamin B12 in the brains of individuals across a human lifetime.
The results showed that the levels of vitamin B12 were ten times lower in older individuals, compared with younger people. However, that only represents a natural, gradual decline that occurs over the years, the scientists said.
According to Professor Deth, lower levels of vitamin B12 among the elderly may not be such a bad thing, as they could offer some brain protection by slowing the production of free radicals – which are DNA-damaging chemicals.
However, if the levels of vitamin B12 decrease too much, they can have negative consequences. Lower vitamin B12 levels can be especially harmful for people of younger ages whose brains are still developing. The brains of young people with autism and middle-aged people with schizophrenia only had about 33 percent of the vitamin B12 levels that other people of similar ages (with no neurological conditions) had.
Moreover, people with schizophrenia under age ten had levels of vitamin B12 similar to people 57 of age. Individuals with schizophrenia between the ages of 36 and 49 had levels of vitamin B12 similar to people that were 72 years old, the scientists said.
Daniel Smith, a neurologist and vice president of innovative technology at Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization in the U.S. that sponsors autism research, said that although the new study is worth pursuing, it still remains speculative with regard to the link between vitamin B12 deficiencies at a cellular level and various types of neurological diseases.
A previous study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic found benefit vitamin supplements are only beneficial for few children with autism.
Image Source: wp