Intake of grain-based foods with folic acid may help curb the risk of developing severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, according to a recent study conducted by a research team at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Severe forms of mental illnesses like autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia are known to affect children and young adults. According to lead author Joshua Roffman, M.D., M.MSc. at the MGH Department of Psychiatry, since these mental disorders generally begin to develop during pregnancy, it is logical to put in the efforts in that direction and help improve life at conception.
Study examined two sets of brain MRIs
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry in July 2018, was conducted on a sample of two different sets of brain MRI of children and adolescents in the age group of eight to 18 years. One set included images of 292 individuals undergoing some sort of treatment at the MGH and another set included images of 861 participants of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. The study aimed to identify psychiatric symptoms, including those associated with psychotic disorders.
On the basis of probable prenatal exposure to folic acid, the researchers divided both the groups into three sets – one group included those born before July 1, 1996 when fortification began, the second group included those born after July 1, 1998, the time when the implementation was complete, and the third group included those born in the intervening two years. Along with these, a third set of around 217 participants born before folic acid fortification was also instituted. These were aged between eight to 18 years and were recruited from a study of National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Study established link between cortical thinning and schizophrenia
On analyzing this study sample of around 1,400 participants, the researchers found that the young individuals born after the complete implementation of folic acid fortification had a different cortical maturation pattern compared to those born before the program. They had thicker brain tissue and delayed thinning of the cerebral cortex in regions associated with schizophrenia. This was common in both the MGH and the participants in the Philadelphia Cohort. Nevertheless, the participants from the rollout period showed intermediate cortical thickness.
The data available on the psychiatric symptoms from the Philadelphia Cohort revealed that the late cortical thinning seen in the participants exposed to folic acid signified reduced risk of psychotic symptoms. However, the NIH cohort sample showed no signs of delayed cortical thinning, hence, substantiating the association between prenatal folic acid exposures and delayed cortical thinning.
Though the study linked prenatal exposure to folic acid with cortical development and reduced risk of psychotic symptoms, it did not directly link the exposure to folic acid with a reduction in schizophrenia risk as the condition typically affecting a person during the early 20s. But the results can still be relied upon for prevention of schizophrenia. Experts feel that further research is needed to identify the ways in which maternal exposure to folic acid can be linked with the onset of such debilitating mental illnesses.
Seeking treatment for schizophrenia
A severe form of mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations and other cognitive issues, schizophrenia commonly affects individuals in the age group of 16 to 30 years. Getting the mental illness diagnosed at the right time and seeking the best form of help from a professional can help get symptomatic relief.
If you or someone you know is affected by schizophrenia and is looking for the best schizophrenia treatment centers, Sovereign Health can help. We offer specialized treatment for schizophrenia tailored to suit individual needs and requirements. To know more about our affordable rehab centers, call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives.