Adding vitamin B supplements to schizophrenia treatments could render them more effective at reducing symptoms than standard medications alone, according to the first meta-analysis ever carried out on the topic.
Examining 18 different clinical trials, researchers found that higher doses of vitamin B, and doses combining several different B vitamins, were better at helping keep the condition in check in the long term.
"Looking at all of the data from clinical trials of vitamin and mineral supplements for schizophrenia to date, we can see that B vitamins effectively improve outcomes for some patients," says one of the researchers, Joseph Firth from the University of Manchester in the UK.
"This could be an important advance, given that new treatments for this condition are so desperately needed."
The studies that the researchers looked at covered a total of 832 patients, and while there were "significant differences" between the studies in terms of the way they were set up, vitamin B was shown to consistently help reduce symptoms.
What's more, the earlier the vitamin B supplement treatment was started, the more effective it was found to be.
Scientists are still studying the reasons why the supplements appear to so beneficial, but researchers think vitamins could help boost nutrition levels, reduce oxidative stress, and correct other chemical imbalances in those with schizophrenia.
More research is needed to establish the links here, and the sooner we understand, the better: schizophrenia currently affects around 1 percent of the global population.
While the antipsychotic drugs given to patients are usually effective at reducing symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions within the first few months, relapses can often happen, even with continuous treatment.
Vitamin B supplements could be a promising way to help prevent these relapses from occurring, although the researchers admit there are limitations to the latest study.
Specifically, the patients who benefitted from extra treatments may have already had nutritional or genetic deficiencies – and the studies included here covered different doses and types of vitamin.
But with schizophrenia being such a complex, ongoing condition, every new insight into ways to mitigate the symptoms helps – and hopefully there are other beneficial supplements out there too.
"Further efforts should also be made to establish the mechanisms by which nutrients improve mental health in schizophrenia," the researchers write, "and to measure effects on other outcomes such as neurocognition and metabolic health."
The findings are published in Psychological Medicine.