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Link between neonatal vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia confirmed

British Medical Journal

Vitamin D

Newborns with vitamin D deficiency have an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life, a team of Australian and Danish researchers has reported.


Vitamin D deficiency in early life is indeed a risk factor for schizophrenia, according to this new study. 

What's more, the findings suggest neonatal vitamin D deficiency could account for as many as eight per cent of schizophrenia cases in Denmark - or around 1 in 12 cases.

The public health implications of this are simply huge, as Vitamin D deficiencies are now widespread - in both developed and many developing countries. But the cost of supplementation and/or food fortification policies to correct this would be absolutely minimal compared with the costs of schizoprenia - which affects around 1% of the population, and has a devastating and lifelong impact on those affected, their families, and wider society.

This new finding is consistent with substantial research over many years, as animal studies have long shown that prenatal Vitamin D deficiency has permanent effects on brain structure and function, leading to sensory and behavioural changes that mimic those found in neurodevelopmental conditions including ADHD, dyspraxia and autism as well as schizophrenia.

Human studies also indicate that Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is associated with higher rates of these developmental conditions in the resulting children - and with poorer behaviour and cognition in general.

Read the underlying research here:

And for more information on this topic, please see the following lists, which are regularly updated:

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."