News - November 14, 2017

Additional B12 has no added effect over placebo in gastro-intestinal diseases

Anja Janssen

Patients who have irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease and take additional B12 tire out just as quickly as patients who are given placebos. This was the conclusion of a clinical study by researchers of the Human Nutrition group that was recently published in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN.

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Many patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease also experience chronic fatigue. Alternative medicine often gives these people high doses of vitamin B12, even when they do not have a B12 deficiency.

‘We originally didn’t believe this’, says co-author and head of the study Ben Witteman, Endowed Professor in Nutrition and Intestinal Health Transitional Care. ‘But when seven out of ten people who participated in a pilot had benefitted from high doses of B12, I wanted to have a control research with placebos, as I suspected this was a placebo response. This is what we investigated with this research, and the results show that additional B12 had no added value.’

The research group consisted of 95 patients with normal blood levels of vitamin B12. Patients with an active intestinal inflammation were excluded. ‘We focused only on patients with chronic fatigue without physical aberrations’, explains Witteman, who is also a gastroenterologist at the Geldersei Vallei hospital.

The researchers had a bit of trouble publishing their research, Witteman says. ‘This surprised me. Vitamin B12 is currently used in huge amounts without thought. We show that this treatment is nonsense, but science seems to be less interested whenever there is a link to alternative medicine.’

It is common for participants in an interventional study to be allowed continued use of the medication if it benefitted them. ‘We had patients in both the research group and the placebo group who wanted to keep taking their pills. This was a slight problem, as we only had produced a small batch of the placebos.’

Many studies have already been performed into patients with gastro-intestinal diseases who also have a B12 deficiency. Witteman: ‘Those people are also tired. And they obviously do benefit from a vitamin B12 treatment. It helps them tremendously.’

Additional reading (partly in Dutch):