A new study has found that vitamin B12 levels in the brain are significantly decreased in the elderly and are much lower in individuals with autism or schizophrenia as compared to their peers at similar ages.
Children with autism under age 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, found an international team led by Richard Deth, professor of pharmacology at Florida-based Nova Southeastern University (NSU).
‘Healthy elderly people in the age range of 61-80 have about three times lower levels of total brain B12 than younger age groups.’
The findings suggest the need for further research to determine if the use of methyl B12 and antioxidants like glutathione as supplements can help prevent oxidative stress and be useful in treating these conditions.
"These are significant findings because the differences we found in brain B12 with ageing, autism and schizophrenia are not seen in the blood which is where B12 levels are usually measured." Dr Deth explained.
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, he added in a paper published in the journal Public Library of Science One
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 ageing. This normal decrease may help adjust brain metabolism to sustain its function across the lifespan. An active form of B12 called "methyl B12" supports normal brain development.
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.
Both autism and schizophrenia are associated with oxidative stress which also plays an important role in ageing and oxidative stress may underlie the decreased brain B12 levels observed in this study.