Vitamin B-12 and Neural Development in Children

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in neurodevelopment in children.

Vitamin B12 is essential for human life. It is involved in the synthesis of DNA, red blood cell formation, energy production, and the metabolism of folic acid. Studies have shown vitamin B12 is also involved in the neural development of young children. Researchers predict that vitamin B12 deficiency early in life may negatively impact cognitive performance years later.

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is common around the world. This creates a problem for breastfeeding infants. These infants’ only source of vitamin B12 is their mother, who may already be B12 deficient herself. Studies have shown that only a small, often unpredictable, amount of B12 ends up in breast milk, regardless of a woman’s B12 status. That could worsen this potential health concern.

A study conducted in Nepal, a region known for vitamin B12 deficiency, examined the link between vitamin B12 deficiency and long-term cognitive development and performance. 500 children were initially included in the study.

The mothers’ dietary intake was determined through three, 24-hour dietary recalls over a one year period. In children, 24-hour dietary recall and blood samples were used to determine vitamin B12 status. Researchers measured neurological development through questionnaires and assessments of communication skills, motor skills, problem solving, eye-hand coordination, and puzzle-solving ability.

Follow-up occurred five years later. A total of 321 of the initial 500 children were found and assessed. Results confirmed the researchers’ initial hypothesis that poor vitamin B12 status does have a long-term impact on the neural development and the cognitive performance of children.

This study shows that vitamin B12 plays an important role in neural development. It also confirms and expounds upon previous research. Now showing that poor B12 intake can have impacts years later. Future research could help determine the best treatment option for infants that are low in vitamin B12. Such research could include supplement intervention trials for infants deficient in vitamin B12.

Kvestad I, Hysing M, Shrestha M, et al. Vitamin B-12 status in infancy is positively associated with development and cognitive functioning 5 y later in Nepalese children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(5):1122-1131.