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The link between low vitamin D levels in neonates and the development of schizophrenia later in life

The link between low vitamin D levels in neonates and the development of schizophrenia later in lifeThere are countless reasons why an expecting mother must make sure to get plenty of vitamin D to support the health of her child. Neonates that lack vitamin D are 44% more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life compared with neonates that do not have a vitamin D deficiency. This was demonstrated by Danish and Australian researchers in a recent study. This vital knowledge may help prevent schizophrenia in the future, and the scientists therefore recommend more focus on the importance of having adequate vitamin D levels during pregnancy.

Every single cell in the body has vitamin receptors that are important for calcium uptake, bones, muscles, the brain and nervous system and the immune system Vitamin D is also believed to control 5-10 percent of all our genes. Lack of vitamin D during pregnancy may harm the development and health of the infant and increase the risk of problems such as weak bones and higher risk of mental disorders like schizophrenia. We humans can only synthesize vitamin D in our skin when the sun sits sufficiently high in the sky. At northern latitudes, the summer sun is our primary source of the nutrient, as the diet only provides very little vitamin D. However, the modern lifestyle, sun awareness campaigns and warnings against skin cancer, overuse of sun factor cream, and having dark skin, being overweight, and suffering from type 2 diabetes are also factors that leave a growing number of people in a state of chronic vitamin D deficiency – even in hot and sunny countries like Australia, where many people seek to avoid the sun.

Schizophrenia symptoms

  • Hallucinations, delusions, and abnormal thinking
  • Apathy that causes people to isolate and neglect themselves
  • Autism where people feel misunderstood and are mostly engulfed in their private inner world
  • Nobody has all the symptoms, and the profile changes in the course of the disease

The link between birth date, vitamin D, and the risk of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is characterized by a number of brain dysfunctions. The disorder typically starts in adolescence or early adulthood. Schizophrenia may be hereditary, but it can also be caused by adjustable factors such as sun exposure and diet.
The new study was headed by Professor John McGrath, who is affiliated with Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Queensland in Australia.
According to Professor McGrath, earlier studies have pointed to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, if you are born in the winter or spring and live at northern latitudes. McGrath hypothesized that low vitamin D levels in pregnant women due to the lack of strong sunlight during the winter and early spring may increase the risk that the baby develops schizophrenia later in life. McGrath and his team of scientists therefore decided to take a closer look at this.

A staggering 40 percent increased risk of schizophrenia

Professor McGrath and his research team analyzed vitamin D levels in blood samples taken from 2,602 Danish neonates born between 1981 and 2000, who had all developed schizophrenia as young adults. They compared these samples with samples from other individuals that had not developed schizophrenia. The control group was matched in terms of gender and time of birth.
The study showed that neonates that lacked vitamin D had a 44 percent greater risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Professor McGrath assumes that lack of vitamin D at the time of birth may be explain around eight percent of all schizophrenia cases in Denmark. Although there is substantially more sunlight in Australia, lack of vitamin D may even be a problem for Australian women, if they avoid the sun, which quite a few actually do. The new study is published in Scientific Reports and supports an earlier study, which Professor McGrath conducted in Holland in 2016.

We need more focus on vitamin D in pregnancy

The development of a fetus is entirely dependent on levels of vitamin D in the blood of the expecting mother. Therefore, the new study is a sign that pregnant women should pay careful attention to getting enough vitamin D to prevent that her baby develops schizophrenia. Professor McGrath compares this to the vital knowledge about how mandatory folic acid supplements can prevent neural tube defects and spina bifida.
Although the Danish health authorities recommend that pregnant women take vitamin D supplements, it appears that many women either forget to do so or fail to take it regularly. It may also be because their vitamin D is not sufficiently effective, as magnesium is required to activate the nutrient. Moreover, women who are overweight and/or are diabetic have an increased need for vitamin D to begin with.
It may be a good idea for pregnant women to test their vitamin D status, namely during the winter and spring, where there is an increased risk of being deficient.
As Professor McGrath sees it, the next step is to conduct a randomized study to see what happens when you give vitamin D supplements to pregnant women who are vitamin D-deficient. That way, it possible to study how vitamin D affects the development of the baby’s brain and how it influences the risk of developing neuro-degenerative diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

Official vitamin D recommendations

In Denmark, the daily reference intake (RI) for vitamin D is 5 micrograms for everyone older than 11 years of age. Pregnant women and children aged 0 to 2 years are advised to get 10 micrograms.
Experts disagree on the optimal vitamin D requirement. On a warm summer day, 10-30 minutes of sun exposure to the skin can easily produce 10-100 micrograms of vitamin D. In terms of supplements, the upper safe intake level according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for vitamin D is 100 micrograms for older children, adults, and pregnant and breastfeeding women.


Darryl W Eyles et al. The association between neonatal vitamin D-status and risk of schizophrenia. Scientific Reports. 2018

University of Queensland. Link between neonatal vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia confirmed. ScienceDaily 2018.

Qi Dai et al. Magnesium status and supplementation influence vitamin D status and metabolism; results from a randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018

Nutritional Deficiencies and Clinical Correlates in First-Episode Psychosis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Schizophrenia Bulletin. (2017)

Western Sydney University. Nutrition may play a key role in early psychosis treatment.

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