Vitamin D not effective in treating psychosis

28 December 2021



Vitamin D supplements are not effective in improving mental or physical health in people with recent onset psychosis, according to new research from an international collaboration including researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute.

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are associated with disabling symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, talking incoherently and agitation.

Professor John McGrath from the Queensland Brain Institute said the findings were disappointing, as psychosis was a debilitating illness and current treatments were inadequate.

“While animal studies indicate that low vitamin D during adulthood can alter brain functioning, this study did not find evidence that vitamin D supplements helped people with early psychosis,” Professor McGrath said.

“This is disappointing, but we will continue to look for new candidate treatments for psychosis.”

Low vitamin D clue in disorders with psychosis

The research did find high rates of vitamin D deficiency in the 149 study participants, likely to result from inactivity, low levels of sun exposure and poor nutrition.

Study participants aged 18 to 65 with early psychosis, recruited from five regions in England, were given either vitamin D or a placebo for six months.

Researchers assessed participants after three and six months for changes in their psychosis symptoms, and mood, function and cardiometabolic risk factors were also measured.

Results showed that 74 per cent of participants had insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels, with the figure rising to 93 per cent among ethnic minorities.

Low vitamin D may have long-term health impacts

Lead author Professor Fiona Gaughran, from King’s College London, said the high vitamin D-deficiency and insufficiency rates may have longer-term negative health impacts – which were not measured.

“Raising awareness of the need to optimise vitamin D in people with psychosis is important,” Professor Gaughran said.

“Future public health strategies should acknowledge the high risk of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency in people with psychosis and consider any reasonable policy adjustments which may be needed to address this.”

The research was funded by the Stanley Medical Research Institute and received support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, King’s College London and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South London.

Professor McGrath is part of a team of researchers at the Queensland Brain Instittue, including Professor Darryl Eyles and Associate Professor Thomas Burne, who have examined the impact of vitamin D deficiency on brain development.

The research has been published in JAMA Open Network.