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Study: Low vitamin D linked to psychosis in teens

Posted on: May 24, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD


Psychosis, or loss of touch with reality, is difficult to see in any loved one but is particularly difficult to deal with if it’s your teenager. Dr. Barbara Gracious and colleagues recently discovered that of 104 teenagers assessed at an acute mental health clinic, the teenagers with the lowest vitamin D levels were more likely to be psychotic. In what must be a tribute to video games and the like, 72% of the teenagers had vitamin D levels lower than 30 ng/ml and 34% had levels lower than 20 ng/ml.

The magnitude of the vitamin D effect was not minor; if the teenager had low vitamin D levels, he or she was almost four times (OR=3.5) as likely to be psychotic.

Gracious BL, Finucane TL, Freidman-Campbell M, Messing S, Parkhurst MM. Vitamin D deficiency and psychotic features in mentally ill adolescents: A cross-sectional study. BMC Psychiatry. 2012 May 9;12(1):38. [Epub ahead of print]

I was disappointed with their usual call for more studies instead of the needed call to treat vitamin D deficiency now. Compare Dr. Gracious’s approach to that of Dr. Mats Humble’s approach at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Dr. Humble and colleagues assessed 117 mental health outpatients of all ages and found that teenagers had the lowest levels. Teenage females had vitamin D levels of around 20 ng/ml and, in another nod to video games, teenage Swedish males attending a mental health clinic had average vitamin D level of around 10 ng/ml.

Humble MB, Gustafsson S, Bejerot S. Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) among psychiatric out-patients in Sweden: relations with season, age, ethnic origin and psychiatric diagnosis. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 Jul;121(1-2):467-70. Epub 2010 Mar 7.

Dr. Humble also found that depressed, psychotic and autistic patients had the lowest vitamin D levels and anxiety patients had the highest levels. Instead of just calling for more trials, he treated the deficient patients with up to 4,000 IU/day of cholecalciferol or, in other cases, up to 70,000 IU weekly of ergocalciferol, which resulted in “considerable improvement” in psychosis and depression.

No doubt, Dr. Humble is busy conducting a randomized controlled trial. At least I hope so. Moreover, I hope he is using pharmacological doses of vitamin D, not physiological doses. That is, I hope he is using 10,000 IU/day and not 5,000 IU/day, although some may claim 10,000 IU/day is physiological.

I predict the day will come when using 50,000 IU/day for ten days in very ill people with a vitamin D responsive disease, such as sepsis, congestive heart failure, and perhaps psychosis, to name but a few, will be commonplace. Now, 50,000/day is a pharmacological dose, which simply means the vitamin D is being used as a drug and not as a supplement for good health.

3 Responses to Study: Low vitamin D linked to psychosis in teens

  1. John

    This was very interesting! Thank you vitaminDcouncil

  2. [email protected]

    Over and over and over these medical people, in this case Humble et al, use ergocalciferol, D2, interchangeably with cholecalciferol, D3. These are 2 different compounds, albeit structurally similar, that have a totally different activity spectrum. D2 should be black boxed by the FDA or banned outright now that inexpensive D3 is readily available over the counter in a wide range of concentrations.

  3. 25OHD4Skip

    The article stated “Now, 50,000/day is a pharmacological dose, which simply means the vitamin D is being used as a drug and not as a supplement for good health.”
    Thank you for this definition! I have been wondering for some time why the two terms were used, seemingly interchangeably. Now I know the difference. I have used 50,000 to 100,000/day dosages on many occasions for a period of 3-5 days when exposed to a situation that might have proven to be ‘infectious’. Even during the summer, I take an occasional ‘booster dosage’ as I do not get to spend a lot of time in the sun. My 25 OHD tests always come back in the 100-125 ng.ml range, which used to ‘freak out’ my doctor. I still believe that one day this range will be considered the optimal range for cancer and other disease prevention. I believe the 60 to 80 ng/ml range will prove to be over time, as significantly too low, considering the continual onslaught against our health that occurs in our modern day living from so many sources. This is not meant as medical or nutritional advice, but only as a description of the choices I have made concerning my Vitamin D supplementation. As a side note, my liver tests are always within normal ranges.

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