Houston, Texas, USA : Newborns with vitamin D deficiency have an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life, a team of Australian and Danish researchers has reported. The discovery could help prevent some cases of the disease by treating vitamin D deficiency during the earliest stages of life.
The study, led by Professor John McGrath from The University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia and Aarhus University in Denmark, found newborns with vitamin D deficiency had a 44 per cent increased risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia as adults compared to those with normal vitamin D levels.
“Schizophrenia is a group of poorly understood brain disorders characterised by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and cognitive impairment,” he said.
“As the developing foetus is totally reliant on the mother’s vitamin D stores, our findings suggest that ensuring pregnant women have adequate levels of vitamin D may result in the prevention of some schizophrenia cases, in a manner comparable to the role folate supplementation has played in the prevention of spina bifida.”
Professor McGrath, of UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, said the study, which was based on 2602 individuals, confirmed a previous study he led that also found an association between neonatal vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of schizophrenia.
The team made the discovery by analysing vitamin D concentration in blood samples taken from Danish newborns between 1981 and 2000 who went on to develop schizophrenia as young adults.
The researchers compared the samples to those of people matched by sex and date of birth who had not developed schizophrenia.
Professor McGrath said schizophrenia is associated with many different risk factors, both genetic and environmental, but the research suggested that neonatal vitamin D deficiency could possibly account for about eight per cent of schizophrenia cases in Denmark.
“Much of the attention in schizophrenia research has been focused on modifiable factors early in life with the goal of reducing the burden of this disease,” he said.
“Previous research identified an increased risk of schizophrenia associated with being born in winter or spring and living in a high-latitude country, such as Denmark.
“We hypothesised that low vitamin D levels in pregnant women due to a lack of sun exposure during winter months might underlie this risk, and investigated the association between vitamin D deficiency and risk of schizophrenia.”
Professor McGrath said that although Australia had more bright sunshine compared to Denmark, vitamin D deficiency could still be found in pregnant women in Australia because of our lifestyle and sun-safe behaviour.
Professor McGrath, who holds a prestigious Niels Bohr Professorship at Aarhus University, also led a 2016 Dutch study that found a link between prenatal vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of childhood autism traits.
“The next step is to conduct randomised clinical trials of vitamin D supplements in pregnant women who are vitamin D deficient, in order to examine the impact on child brain development and risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.”
Citation : Darryl W. Eyles et al, The association between neonatal vitamin D status and risk of schizophrenia, Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35418-z
A second study a link between vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and increased autism traits.
Lab confirms vitamin D link to autism traits
Researchers at The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute have found a link between vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and increased autism traits.
The study, led by QBI researcher Professor John McGrath and involving Dr Henning Tiemeier from the Erasmus Medical Centre in The Netherlands, found that pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.
“This study provides further evidence that low vitamin D is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders,” Professor McGrath said.
“Just as taking folate in pregnancy has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, the result of this study suggests that prenatal vitamin D supplements may reduce the incidence of autism.”
While it is widely known that vitamin D is vital for maintaining healthy bones, there is now a solid body of evidence linking it to brain growth.
vitamin D usually comes from exposure to the sun, but it can also be found in some foods and supplements.
The study examined approximately 4200 blood samples from pregnant women and their children, who were closely monitored as part of the long-term “Generation R” study in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
“This research could have important implications from a public health perspective,” Professor McGrath said.
“We would not recommend more sun exposure, because of the increased risk of skin cancer in countries like Australia.
“Instead, it’s feasible that a safe, inexpensive, and publicly accessible vitamin D supplement in at-risk groups may reduce the prevalence of this risk factor.”
Autism – or autism spectrum disorder – is used to describe lifelong developmental disabilities including an inability to communicate with others, interact socially, or fully comprehend the world.
Explore further: Vitamin D supplements may benefit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Citation : A A E Vinkhuyzen et al. Gestational vitamin D deficiency and autism-related traits: the Generation R Study, Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/mp.16.213
A third study found that Vitamin D supplements may benefit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Vitamin D supplements may benefit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Studies have shown an association between the risk of autism spectrum disorder and vitamin D insufficiency. In this latest study, 109 children with autism spectrum disorder were randomized to receive four months of vitamin D3 supplementation or a placebo.
“Autism symptoms—such as hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and others—improved significantly following vitamin D3 supplementation but not after receiving placebo,” said Dr. Khaled Saad, lead author of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study.
Citation : Khaled Saad et al, Randomized controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in children with autism spectrum disorder, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12652