Lack of vitamin D has been linked to a number of health issues in recent years. New findings by the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) now suggests that a low level of this important nutrient in babies can lead to a greater risk of schizophrenia development down the road.
In fact, the research team found that babies born with insufficient levels of vitamin D are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life, pointing to the possibilities and potential promise of lowering risk by increasing prenatal intake of the nutrient.
“While we need to replicate these findings, the study opens up the possibility that improving vitamin D levels in pregnant women and newborn babies could reduce the risk of later schizophrenia,” QBI Professor John McGrath said.
Long coined the “sunshine hormone,” vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to a host of medical issues including many forms of cancer, high blood pressure, depression, and immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
McGrath, a psychiatrist who is the director of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, noted that research has suggested for some time that there is also a link between sunlight, vitamin D absorption and brain development.
Dr. Darryl Eyles, another project researcher and head of the neurobiology laboratory at QBI also added that “vitamin D is necessary for cell growth and communication in all organs in the body, so it’s no surprise that a lack of vitamin D has an effect on the developing brain.”
In response to recent findings about health and vitamin D, many scientists suggest upping the official recommendations for daily intake. Vitamin D can be increased by either taking supplements, eating more foods that contain the nutrient or spending time in the sun, a major source of the vitamin.
When the ultraviolet light found in sunlight hits the skin, it produces vitamin D. Past research suggests that most people develop schizophrenia during the winter, when less vitamin D is available for absorption.
Research for the QBI study was conducted by taking tiny samples of blood routinely from newborn babies in Denmark. Comparisons were made of vitamin D concentration found in babies who later developed schizophrenia against their healthier counterparts.
The three-year study’s findings can be found in the September 7, 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. In a recent interview by The World Today, McGrath acknowledged that it could take decades to determine the success of treatment as the outcomes can be separated from the treatment by 20 to 30 years.
Researchers hope that the study will eventually lead to public health messages about the importance of vitamin D intake as a way to reduce the reduce of schizophrenia in much the same way pregnant women are now encouraged to increase folate intake to reduce the of spina bifida in children.
“While the links between vitamin D and bone growth have long been appreciated, the fact that we have discovered it is also important for healthy brain growth is a vital step forward,” McGrath added.
Schizophrenia is a poorly understood, lifelong brain disorder that currently affects about 1 percent of the world’s population. Those afflicted may hear voices, see things that aren’t there or believe that others are reading or controlling their minds.
Approximately 2 million people in the U.S. are affected. The disease occurs in both genders and in all races, with the highest occurrence in women.
Source: Queensland Brain Institute