International Conference Reveals Diverse Advances In Understanding Psychosis

A vitamin D deficiency can worsen depression among people with schizophrenia. LeventeGyori/Shutterstock

The announcement that taurine, an additive in the energy drink Red Bull, reduces psychotic symptoms won headlines yesterday. But the same conference where this was announced – the International Early Psychosis Association's annual meeting in Milay, Italy – has heard plenty of other reports on advances in understanding psychosis, from many different angles, and all of them offering hope for better treatments.

Vitamin D deficiency has been suspected for years to play a role in mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. Extensive evidence has been reported that diagnosis is more common among people born at high latitudes during winter or late spring. A presentation at the conference showed that this is not just a problem during the development of the infant brain, but can produce additional depression among adults already suffering from other mental illnesses.

In a study of 225 adult schizophrenia patients and 159 controls, Dr Mari Nerhus of the University of Oslo found those with low vitamin D levels were more prone to depression, even when sex, education level, and ethnicity were controlled for. Moreover, people experiencing vitamin D deficiencies performed worse on tests of mental processing speed and verbal fluency. In a statement, Dr Nerhus calls for “large scale randomized controlled studies” of people at risk of vitamin D deficiency, to test whether vitamin D supplements can restore capacity.

The same conference heard that thickening and blood vessel inflammation in the left carotid artery, the primary source of blood to the brain, is common among young people with early onset psychosis and bipolar disorder. The average thickness of the inner layer of the artery was 0.13 millimeters among patients with psychosis, but 0.08 millimeters among healthy controls.

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