Fetal malnutrition linked to adult schizophrenia

February 27, 2001 in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Fetal malnutrition linked to adult schizophrenia

Small size at birth and relative thinness during childhood may be linked to an increased risk for the development of schizophrenia in later life, Finnish researchers report.

The researchers from The University of Helsinki in Finland evaluated factors including newborn size, head circumference, size of the placenta and mother's body size, in over 7,000 individuals born between 1924-1933. The investigators also traced the growth and development of the study group through childhood and adolescence. According to the researchers, 114 of the study participants went on to be diagnosed with schizophrenia at some point in their lives.

The highest risk of schizophrenia was among people who were short at birth and relatively thin during later childhood. In fact, individuals measuring less than 49 cm (19 inches) in length at birth, and who also placed among the thinnest third of children at age 7, had four times the risk of schizophrenia compared with those who were heavier at birth and through later development.

The investigators stress that risks for schizophrenia were not associated with 'preemie' births (births that occur prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy). Because prematurity is not implicated, "the association between small birth size and schizophrenia...must therefore be caused by reduced rates of growth," they write. Specifically, poor fetal nutrition, as evidenced by low maternal body weight during late pregnancy and small-sized placenta, may account for the observed relationship.

The study confirms both hereditary components and environmental components increase the risk for schizophrenia. Based on these findings, care should be taken that all mothers are offered good quality prenatal care.

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