Vitamin B12 deficiency linked to impaired brain development and function in children… so why aren’t doctors recommending B12?

Having poor vitamin B12 levels early in life may result in impaired or delayed brain development and function in children, according to a recent Norwegian study. Health experts at Uni Research in Bergen, Norway examined blood samples from 500 Nepalese infants and found that children with low vitamin B12 levels exhibited difficulties in dealing with various cognitive assessments such as interpreting other children’s emotions, solving puzzles, and recognizing letters.

“Our results clearly demonstrate associations between early vitamin B12 status and various measures on development and cognitive functioning, as for example the ability to interpret complex geometrical figures, and the ability to recognize other children’s emotions. The number of children in low-income countries that do not develop according to their potential is large. Our results indicate that correcting children’s vitamin B12 status early may be one measure to secure a healthy development for these vulnerable children. We are currently in the process of confirming our results in randomized controlled trials,” said researcher Ingrid Kvestad.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Previous studies link low vitamin B12, poor brain function in children

The results of the recent study support previous research linking vitamin B12 deficiency to poor brain function in children.

A 2015 study revealed that lacking the essential nutrient may adversely affect memory, reasoning and intelligence in school-aged children. Researchers analyzed data on more than 3,000 public school students aged five to 12 and found that those suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency were twice more likely to repeat a grade compared with those who had adequate levels. The study also showed that children with low vitamin B12 levels have significantly more absences compared to their healthier counterparts. Health experts said vitamin B12 influenced the body’s immunity, and that taking supplements could help improve school attendance. The results were published in The Journal of Nutrition.

A meta-analysis published in 2008 also confirmed that low vitamin B12 levels in infancy may result in adverse conditions in children. Researchers cited four case studies from the U.S. where lethargy, irritability, and developmental delay were observed in exclusively-breastfed children born to vegan mothers with low vitamin B12 levels. Another case study noted delayed motor skills and lethargy among European infants born to mothers suffering from nutrient deficiency. The findings appeared in the journal Food and Nutrition Bulletin.

A 2001 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also demonstrated that inadequate vitamin B12 may result in neurological impairment in children. Data from two case studies showed that low vitamin B12 levels were associated with poor motor and speech developments in children. However, addressing genetics issues that trigger the nutrient deficiency proved effective in improving the patients’ motor and developmental skills.

Vitamin B12 deficiency rates, symptoms and recommendations

About 47 million Americans suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, but very few are aware of it. The nutrient is essential in DNA and red blood cell production, as well as sleep, energy, and mood regulation. Inadequate vitamin B12 levels inhibit the body from regenerating new cells, which result in accelerated aging and cognitive decline. While long-term deficiency may lead to adverse health conditions, symptoms of low vitamin B12 levels — such as include forgetfulness, confusion and irritability — often go unnoticed and is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Despite results from previous studies and statistics, The University of Maryland Medical Center discourages vitamin B12 supplementation in children unless prescribed by a clinician. According to the experts, the supplements may interfere with certain medications such as antibiotics, cholesterol drugs, and chemotherapy treatments. Non-prescription supplements are not tested for safety and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the experts said.

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