The number of children and adolescents with ADHD has skyrocketed in the past decade, and the human and socioeconomic costs are enormous. A major cause may be the widespread problems with vitamin D deficiency, according to a study from Turku University in Finland. It does not make things any easier that sun awareness campaigns fail to give people an alternative way of getting enough vitamin D all year around, and it is also a problem that many pregnant women don’t take their supplements as recommended.
Substantially more children and youngsters are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and have problems with inattention, overactivity, and impulsive behavior. Also, many ADHD sufferers have sleep problems. Over half of those diagnosed with ADHD in their childhood continue to have their problems in adulthood. In many cases, other neurological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia plus alcohol and substance abuse follow in the wake of these disorders. Although 80 percent of ADHD cases are attributed to genetic factors, this cannot explain the explosive growth in rates, as our genes are unable to change that radically in so few decades. Therefore, it must be the diet and surrounding environment that promote the disease.
Vitamin D is vital for fetal development
Most cells in the body have vitamin D receptors (VDR) that control different genes and a host of biochemical processes, including processes in the brain cells (neurons), glial cells, and cells in the hippocampus. Over the past decades, scientists have conducted numerous studies that show a link between vitamin D and brain health.
Vitamin D influences brain development and function by way of different endocrine processes that include neurotransmitters, cell signaling, cytokine regulation, calcium balance, stress hormones, antioxidant activity, and inhibition of undesirable inflammation. For that reason, lack of vitamin D and related dysfunctions with relation to brain development in the fetal stage and the first years of life may have unfortunate neuropsychiatric consequences. Just for the record, the brain needs vitamin D throughout life.
The new study: Lack of vitamin D remains a global problem
The new Finnish study is the first population study to show a link between low maternal vitamin D status in the period from early to midterm pregnancy and an increased risk of the child developing ADHD.
The study included 1,067 children with ADHD that were born between 1998 and 1999 and compared to a group of matching controls. Various data was collected from blood samples and before national guidelines recommended that pregnant women supplement with 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily all year round.
The study showed that having low blood levels of vitamin D during pregnancy increases the risk of ADHD in the child. According to lead researcher Professor Andre Sourander, lack of vitamin D remains a global problem. In Finland, for example, there are many pregnant women with different ethnic backgrounds that do not get enough vitamin D.
As ADHD is one of the most common chronic ailments among children and youngsters, this study may be of great importance to public health, says Andre Sourander. The study is part of a larger research project aimed at showing possible links between maternal health during pregnancy and the risk of her child developing ADHD. This may help collect new insight and make it easier to introduce measures to prevent the disease.
The study is carried out in collaboration with scientists from Turku University in Finland and Columbia University in New York. It is published in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
More focus on vitamin D and supplements in pregnancy
Although the Danish health authorities recommend that pregnant women take a 10-microgram per day vitamin D supplement it looks as if many women forget to do it or fail to take their supplements regularly. Moreover, overweight individuals and diabetics have an increased need for the nutrient.
It may therefore be a good idea to measure the pregnant women’s vitamin D status – especially during the winter period and in the spring where people are most likely to be vitamin D-deficient.
University of Tuku. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy connected to elevated risk of ADHD. ScienceDaily February 2020
Minna Sucksdorff et al. Maternal Vitamin D Levels and the Risk of Offspring Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2019
Darryl Eyles et al. Vitamin D in fetal brain development. ScienceDirect. 2011
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