Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism directly affect the lives of tens of millions of people in the USA. Even if you are free of them, chances are that you know someone with one of the disorders.
Living in our world makes it easy to conclude that the incredible prevalence of these disorders is simply the way it has always been. However, substantial evidence indicates that all three disorders are rapidly increasing and that all three were rare two and a half centuries ago.
Is it possible that one factor is at work in all three disorders? Dr. Patrick Sullivan of my alma mater, the UNC School of Medicine, and 12 colleagues from around the world collaborated on the largest study to date that links the three disorders.
Sullivan PF, Magnusson C, Reichenberg A, Boman M, Dalman C, Davidson M, Fruchter E, Hultman CM, Lundberg M, Långström N, Weiser M, Svensson AC, Lichtenstein P. Family History of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder as Risk Factors for Autism; Family History of Psychosis as Risk Factor for ASD. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012 Jul 2:1-5. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.730. [Epub ahead of print]
Previous work has shown a common factor is at work in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The authors wanted to know if that factor is also at work in autism. Indeed that is just what they found, in over 30,000 patients, mainly in Sweden. In the largest of their three samples, the odds ratio was 2.6 for schizophrenia and 2.5 for bipolar disorder; meaning that if you have one of the disorders, your sibling is more likely afflicted with one of the other two disorders. “The presence of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in first degree relatives was a consistent and significant risk factor for autism spectrum disorder in all three samples.”
They concluded, “Our findings indicate that autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder share etiological risk factors.” The authors state this factor could be genetic, an environmental risk factor or a gene-environment interaction.
Of course, vitamin D is a premier candidate for a gene-environment interaction, as the vitamin D steroid interacts specifically with genes by turning them on or off. Moreover, the rise of these plagues over two and a half centuries correlates well with our moving indoors. (Imagine where you’d spend your daylight hours if you had no electricity.)
Is it possible that vitamin D deficiency is wreaking such devastation?