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Children with a vitamin B12 deficiency have difficulty with problem solving and social behavior

Children with a vitamin B12 deficiency have difficulty with problem solving and social behaviorVitamin B12 is important for the development of the brain, and young children with low levels of the nutrient are challenged when it comes to solving cognitive tests such as puzzles, letter recognition, and the ability to understand the feelings of other children. Vitamin B12-deficient children are therefore more vulnerable and generally have a more difficult start in life. Researchers have demonstrated this in a study that is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Very young children with low levels of vitamin B12 score lower in cognitive tests at the age of five years, according to a study conducted by Ingrid Kvestad and colleagues at Uni Research in Bergen, Norway. Her study reveals a clear link between vitamin B12 deficiency early in life and the ability to solve various tasks such as interpreting complex geometrical figures (e.g. puzzles) and understanding the feelings of other children. The study shows that lack of vitamin B12 may impair and possibly even delay brain development in young children, thereby impairing their cognitive skills such as reasoning, language, and problem solving.

Which children are most likely to be vitamin B12-deficient?

Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal food sources like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. There are large population groups in underdeveloped countries that cannot afford this type of food. Strict vegans and vegetarians also risk getting too little vitamin B12, and the same is the case with children of vegetarian or vegan mothers who did not supplement during pregnancy and lactation. In worst case, these children risk stunted growth and a mental retardation.
The study shows how important it is for children to get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from an early age in order to ensure normal development of the brain. In underdeveloped countries where many people belong to low income groups, vitamin B12 deficiencies are particularly common among children and they prevent optimal development. On the other side, it is possible to correct their vitamin B12 status early in life, thereby helping these vulnerable children to a better start.

Even minor vitamin B12 deficiencies can damage brain development

The Norwegian researchers collected blood samples from 500 children in Bhaktapur, Nepal, and looked at their vitamin B12 levels. After about five years, the researchers managed to get in contact with 320 of the children and they put them through various tests of development and cognition.
The majority of the Nepalese children in the study were not severely vitamin B12-deficient. However, many of them had subclinical deficiency, which means that most the children did not get the recommended levels of vitamin B12 needed for optimal growth and brain development.
According to Kvested, these children have a concealed vitamin B12 deficiency that forces their cells to work harder to signal acute challenges.
The study contributes to the understanding of all the complications, which minor or severe vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to and that can affect the development of cognitive skills in young children.
Kvestad also reports that scientists are currently in the process of underpinning the study results in large controlled, randomized studies. The researchers involved in these studies are affiliated with different universities in Norway, Nepal, and the United States.

Vitamin B12’s functions that are related to cognitive skills

  • Brain development
  • Nervous system and mental balance
  • Formation of red blood cells that transport oxygen in the body
  • Burning of fat and carbohydrate
  • Energy levels


Uni Research. Children with poor B12 status early in life struggle more with tasks, recognition and interpreting feeling. ScienceDaily March 27, 2017

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