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Latest on the association between vitamin D and schizophrenia

Posted on: October 1, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


During your life, you have about a one percent chance of developing schizophrenia, one of the most disabling medical conditions known. Imagine being delusional, constantly hearing voices and often suffering from depressed mood. Professor John McGrath and colleagues, of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Queensland Brain Institute in Australia, believe they know what causes it. John McGrath first proposed the theory ten years ago and has been patiently waiting ten years for interventional studies to be done.

In a series of recent papers, Professor McGrath and colleagues list the reasons they think vitamin D deficiency causes schizophrenia:

  1. Absence of vitamin D supplementation at birth associated with increased rate of schizophrenia.
  2. The darker your skin, the higher the risk of schizophrenia (Organized psychiatry was accused of racism for saying this in the early 1990s and hurriedly published politically correct studies.)
  3. Low vitamin D levels associated with increased risk of schizophrenia in some studies.
  4. Individuals born in winter and spring have an increased risk.
  5. Vitamin D intimately involved with fetal brain development.
  6. Animal studies show maternal vitamin D deficiency leads to abnormalities in offspring’s brain.
  7. Individuals born in cities have a higher risk than those born in the country.
  8. Equatorial populations have a very low risk until they live in higher latitudes.

McGrath JJ, Burne TH, Féron F, Mackay-Sim A, Eyles DW. Developmental vitamin D deficiency and risk of schizophrenia: a 10-year update.Schizophr Bull. 2010 Nov;36(6):1073-8. Epub 2010 Sep 10. Review.

Harms LR, Burne TH, Eyles DW, McGrath JJ. Vitamin D and the brain. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Aug;25(4):657-69.

Kesby JP, Eyles DW, Burne TH, McGrath JJ. The effects of vitamin D on brain development and adult brain function. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2011 Jun 1.

The takeaway message from these papers is simple. Pregnant and lactating women need to take 6,000 IU/day and children need to take 1,000 IU for every 25 pounds of body weight. Adults need 5,000 IU/day for their brain to work properly. Many people only realize the difference in brain function after starting supplementation. That is, they had no way of knowing what normal brain function was during a lifetime of vitamin D deficiency.

3 Responses to Latest on the association between vitamin D and schizophrenia

  1. Andre Tomlin

    Hi John,

    I’m interested in how you’ve interpreted and summarised this research from McGrath et al.

    You make the statement: “In a series of recent papers, Professor McGrath and colleagues list the reasons they think vitamin D deficiency causes schizophrenia”. This statement seems to me to be a lot stronger than the abstract from the recent Schiz-Bull paper, in which McGrath says: “Based on clues from epidemiology, we proposed that developmental vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.”

    I’m no expert, but my understanding of schizophrenia is that (like many other mental health conditions) it is caused by a range of physical, genetic, environmental and psychological factors. Surely we should consider all of these (including vitamin D deficiency) and not simplify the research so that it conveniently supports one point of view?

    Vitamin D deficiency may well play a part in the development of a number of mental health conditions, but I would urge caution when making statements about cause and effect until such studies are available that prove a causal link.

    Andre Tomlin

  2. [email protected]

    Is that 1% the same for both causasion and African American people?

  3. Andre Tomlin

    Hi Troddinon,

    You’ll find some good background statistics on schizophrenia incidence and prevalence here: http://www.schizophrenia.com/szfacts.htm


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