Research on 100 people with schizophrenia shows that adding the dietary supplements folate and vitamin B12 to treatment with antipsychotic medication may improve core symptoms of schizophrenia.
The research at Massachusetts General Hospital focused on alleviating apathy, social withdrawal and a lack of emotional expressiveness.
“The symptoms of schizophrenia are complex, and antipsychotic medications provide no relief for some of the most disabling parts of the illness. These include negative symptoms, which can be particularly devastating,” says researcher Joshua Roffman, M.D. “Our finding that folate plus vitamin B12 supplementation can improve negative symptoms opens a new potential avenue for treatment of schizophrenia. Because treatment effects differed based on which genetic variants were present in each participant, the results also support a personalized medical approach to treating schizophrenia.”
Folate is an essential nutrient required for the synthesis of DNA and neurotransmitters and plays a role in the control of gene expression. Adequate folate intake during pregnancy can reduce the risk of birth defects. Studies have suggested that folate deficiency during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of schizophrenia among offspring. Earlier research associated low blood folate levels with more severe negative symptoms among those with schizophrenia.
“For participants (in our study) who did show a benefit, it took the full 16 weeks of treatment for that benefit to appear,” Roffman explains. “While we don’t know why this is the case, changes in gene expression — which take time — are a likely explanation. Folate plays a critical role in DNA methylation, which regulates gene expression, so it’s plausible that its effects on negative symptoms act through gene expression changes. Participants with the low-functioning FOLH1 variant might eventually show a benefit of folate supplementation if treated for a longer period of time, but that needs to be investigated in future studies.”