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Study shows B vitamins can reduce psychotic symptoms – so what next?

Our Research Director, Dr Sophie Dix unwraps a recent study showing the impact that vitamins could have for the treatment of schizophrenia - and how our Fellow is taking this idea a step further.  

Last week, a study was published showing that B vitamins have been seen to reduce psychotic symptoms in people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The research, published in Psychology Medicine, was conducted by reviewing published clinical trials exploring the effect of vitamin and mineral supplements on psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia. The research team pulled the data into one analysis – increasing its statistical power.

Collectively, the data show that for some people who had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, consuming high doses of vitamins, and specifically B vitamins, was likely to reduce psychotic symptoms like hearing voices and paranoia. The effect was greatest in people who had had the illness for less time. 

This is a nice meta-analysis but it is still relatively small, combining 18 clinical trials with a total of 832 patients receiving antipsychotic treatment for schizophrenia. Lead author Joseph Firth has said that there were significant differences among the findings, and more research is needed to find out about the effects that vitamins have on the brain. 

Our fellow, Joshua Roffman, takes this research to the next level – prevention. He’s going one step further and looking at whether a specific B vitamin, folic acid, could potentially prevent the disorder in some people.

To do this, he’s looking at people born in the 1990s in America. Why? Because we know that the US government introduced a programme to fortify bread, cereals and other grain products with folic acid around that time.

This means he is able to compare MRI scan data from children born before and after the US folic acid programme began – to see whether indications of possible future schizophrenia have reduced.

Right now, 1-2% of the population are affected by schizophrenia. The impact of the condition can be devastating, reducing life expectancy by an average of 20 years.

For people most at risk of developing the condition, Joshua’s research offers huge potential to transform treatments and support. 

Last updated: 4 September 2017

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