Neonatal Vitamin D Deficiency May Raise Schizophrenia Risk

December 12, 2018

Neonatal vitamin D deficiency is associated with a 44% increased risk of schizophrenia later in life, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

The findings support those from a previous study that identified an association between neonatal vitamin D deficiency and heightened schizophrenia risk. Consequently, researchers are now suggesting that treatment of vitamin D deficiency in the earliest stages of life may reduce the risk of later developing schizophrenia.

“As the developing fetus is totally reliant on [the] mother’s vitamin D stores, our findings suggest that ensuring pregnant women have adequate levels of vitamin D may result in the prevention of some schizophrenia cases in a manner comparable to the role folate supplementation has played in the prevention of spina bifida,” said researcher John McGrath, MD, PhD, of Aarhus University, Denmark, and the University of Queensland, Australia.

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For the study, researchers analyzed the vitamin D concentration in dried blood samples from newborns in Denmark who went on to develop schizophrenia as young adults. They next compared the samples to those from people matched by sex and date of birth who did not develop schizophrenia. In all, the case-control study included 2602 people.

Newborns with vitamin D deficiency had a 44% increased risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia as young adults, researchers found, compared with newborns with normal levels of vitamin D.

Investigators believe neonatal vitamin D deficiency may account for as much as 8% of cases of schizophrenia in Denmark, a high-latitude country with reduced sun exposure during the winter months. A 2016 study led by Dr. McGrath found an association between prenatal vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of autism traits in childhood.

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“The next step is to conduct randomized clinical trials of vitamin D supplements in pregnant women who are vitamin D deficient,” said Dr. McGrath, “in order to examine the impact on child brain development and risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Eyles DW, Trzaskowski M, Vinkhuyzen AAE, et al. The association between neonatal vitamin D status and risk of schizophrenia. Scientific Reports. 2018 December 6;[Epub ahead of print].

Link between newborns with vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia confirmed [press release]. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University; December 7, 2018