Prenatal Folic Acid and Schizophrenia Prevention

Prenatal Folic Acid and Schizophrenia Prevention

My group has been studying folic acid, which
is B vitamin, and it’s potential for neuroprotective effects in schizophrenia. Given that schizophrenia is thought to be
fundamentally an illness of disordered brain development, events in brain development that
happen during pregnancy subsequently laying the foundation for risk later on in life,
we were curious about whether folic acid exposure during pregnancy might have a stronger effect
than what we see after the onset of illness and could even potentially prevent some cases
of schizophrenia later in life. To understand this question, which is difficult
to study given the delay of about 20 years between prenatal development and the onset
of schizophrenia, we decided to leverage, as a natural experiment of sorts, the roll
out of folic acid fortification of the grain supply, which was introduced in the late 1990s,
in order to reduce risk of spina bifida and other neural tube disorders. What we have found is that that intervention
seems to be associated with changes in the trajectory of brain development, and specifically
in the development of the cerebral cortex, that appear to be protective against risk
for schizophrenia. This data, really for the first time, links
a brain-biology marker of schizophrenia risk, which is cortical thickness reduction, to
an intervention that occurs during prenatal life that, indeed, in many cases, is already
being given. These relationships between folic acid exposure
and brain development, subsequent risk of illness, appear to be strong, and at the same
time, on the level of basic brain biology, we’re not sure what the mechanisms are. This would be really important to try to understand,
because if we can pull out intermediate mechanisms on the level of cell biology, gene environment
interactions, especially since what folic acid does is help to control gene expression
through changes in methylation, this might identify some new bio-chemical, metabolic
pathways that can be leveraged to develop even more specific treatments. And when I say treatment, that could either
be in the realm of treatment after someone develops the illness or a preventative type
of intervention. On one level, we are interested in understanding
more about the biology that drives these changes, so that we can harness that biology to get
even more specific interventions. On the other hand, there is an important public
health issue here, which is that with the availability of folic acid and it’s being
recommended universally, in terms of supplements for women who are trying to become pregnant,
and somewhat less universally in terms of fortification of the food supply, there is
a real opportunity here to try and understand why it is that more women of child-bearing
are not taking folic acid, either as a supplement or why certain governments have chosen not
to fortify the food supply. If we can understand those barriers, then
potentially we can increase the adherence to something that really is already recommended,
and not only see a benefit in terms of spina bifida, but also potentially in terms of risk
for severe mental illness.

9 thoughts on “Prenatal Folic Acid and Schizophrenia Prevention

  1. The approach described here is overlooking an enormous detail: the inability of those with certain MTHFR mutations to convert folic acid into methylfolate. Folic acid is toxic for those of us with the C677T variation. Everyone needs methylfolate but folic acid is not the answer for those of us with methylation issues.

  2. So how much should the person take daily and you’re absolutely right about folic acid in many ways

  3. Do you people know what you doing I ended up pregnant schizophrenia I think the last time I looked I am a manπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ maybe the schizophrenia kicking in I don't too much blood too much iron back problems don't know about the schizophrenia and I miss something out chest problems and maybe Pancras when might have to take some blood off me me happy daysπŸ˜›πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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