The Role of Vitamin D in Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Vitamin D plays an important role in many body processes and functions and it has been linked to several physical and mental health conditions. Vitamin D deficiency is suspected as a contributor to seasonal depression, especially during winter months when people get less sun-exposure in places such as here in Brooklyn and New York City. However, you may not have heard about the role of Vitamin D deficiency in Psychosis and Schizophrenia.

Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Psychosis is a general term that describes a state of mind in which an individual has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is not. It typically involves changes in thinking patterns, perception, mood, and behavior. It may also include unusual or false beliefs.

Schizophrenia is a specific form of Psychosis. It usually appears during young adulthood and is a life-long condition. Schizophrenia is characterized by unusual symptoms including delusions, hallucinations and disturbed thinking. It is also accompanied by negative symptoms (meaning some normal behavior is no longer present) such as social withdrawal, a decrease in motivation, blunted emotional expression, and altered speech/movement.

Psychosis and the Psychotic Disorders, especially Schizophrenia are challenging conditions that can cause a lot of suffering and disability. An imbalance in the neurotransmitter Dopamine is suspected to play a role in these disorders. Often people require long-term treatment with medications that affect brain Dopamine function. However, these medications can also cause a variety of physical and cognitive side effects.  So finding natural treatments and treatments with few side effects that may help to reduce the risk of psychosis or potentially lower the need for antipsychotic medications is key.  Vitamin D supplementation may be one such hopeful option.

Researchers believe that low levels of Vitamin D could be related to increased risk for Schizophrenia. These findings suggest that maintaining normal Vitamin D levels may be protective.

Research Findings on Vitamin D and Psychosis

Belvederi and his colleagues reported that individuals with Psychotic Disorders are more likely to have a Vitamin D deficiency compared to the general population. Their research findings also indicated that people with Schizophrenia tend to have even lower Vitamin D levels compared to individuals with other forms of Psychosis. These findings suggest Vitamin D may play a role in these disorders.

Subsequent research from Valipour and his colleagues showed that the overall prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in patients with Schizophrenia was as high as 65.3%. These researchers also found that patients who were deficient in Vitamin D were 2.16 times more likely to have Schizophrenia than individuals with healthy levels of Vitamin D.

Research also shows that specific symptoms may be especially influenced and that Vitamin D levels may affect symptoms differently in men versus women with Psychosis/Schizophrenia.

These studies concluded that there is a strong association between Vitamin D deficiency and Schizophrenia. It should be noted that these findings are correlational and not necessarily causal. It could be that some other factor causes both problems with Psychosis and Vitamin D or the indoor isolation typical of people with Schizophrenia, may be the cause of Vitamin D deficiency. More research is needed to discern the relationship between Vitamin D and Psychosis as well as treatment options.

While the research is still young and limited, research points to a link between Vitamin D and the development of Schizophrenia, so preventative health measures of supplementing with vitamin D may be of particular importance for individuals who are at high risk for developing a psychotic illness or schizophrenia.

Next Steps

If you are exploring complementary treatments for Psychosis and Schizophrenia, then speak to your healthcare professional about your Vitamin D levels and potential treatment options. As a psychiatrist in Brooklyn, I test and detect low vitamin D levels frequently, so if you live in an area with limited sun exposure, it is particularly important to get tested and treated.