Brain levels of Vitamin B12 decrease naturally with age, and a new study has found that individuals with schizophrenia and autism also tend to experience a premature decrease, showing far lower brain levels of B12 than their peers at similar ages.
The study, published in the online journal, Public Library of Science One (PLOS One), found that children with autism under the age of 10 were found to have three times lower brain B12 levels, which is similar to levels for generally healthy adults in their 50s, indicating a premature decrease.
Richard Deth, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) College of Pharmacy, led the international research team. They analyzed tissue from otherwise healthy deceased donors along with tissue from donors who had autism or schizophrenia to make the comparisons.
Dr. Deth elaborates on the discovery:
These are particularly significant findings because the differences we found in brain B12 with aging, autism and schizophrenia are not seen in the blood, which is where B12 levels are usually measured. The large deficits of brain B12 from individuals with autism and schizophrenia could help explain why patients suffering from these disorders experience neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms.
The study also found healthy elderly people in the age range of 61-80 have about three times lower levels of total brain B12 than younger age groups, which is a result of normal aging. This normal decrease may help adjust brain metabolism to sustain its function across the lifespan.
An active form of B12 called methylcobalamin, or methyl B12, supports normal brain development by its control through a process known as epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Remarkably, the brain level of methyl B12 was found to be more than 10 times lower in healthy elderly people than in healthy younger people. A lower than normal level of methyl B12 in the brain could adversely affect neurodevelopment in younger years and could disrupt learning and memory later in life.
Autism and schizophrenia are both associated with oxidative stress, which also plays an important role in aging, and oxidative stress may underlie the decreased brain B12 levels observed in this study.
The study’s findings suggest the need for further research to determine if the use of supplemental methyl B12 and antioxidants like glutathione could help prevent oxidative stress and be useful in treating these conditions.