Magazine article Psychology Today

D Is for Development

Magazine article Psychology Today

D Is for Development

Article excerpt

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT vitamin D is essential for building strong bones. Yet the so-called sunshine vitamin, produced in the skin as it is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet В rays, does a lot more. It is also proving to be essential for central nervous system growth and activity. What underlies the markedly different effects in two disparate biological systems is a common actor-the mineral calcium, which vitamin D regulates. But the vitamin also has some brain tricks entirely its own.

From gestation to senescence, vitamin D carries out an array of physiological activities in the brain, a growing number of studies show, and it is essential for normal development of the organ itself. In fact, maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy appears to interrupt early brain development, including the assignment of neural stem cells for specific functions. As a result, it may play a role in the genesis of both autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Vitamin D insufficiency is a growing problem in the industrialized world, especially in northerly latitudes and particularly during winter. At least one team of researchers predicts that supplements of vitamin D may markedly reduce prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders.

It's not clear whether vitamin D is necessary for brain growth during a critical period of gestation or if the brain is sensitive to the vitamin throughout fetal life. Vitamin D receptors exist in the nucleus of all cells in the brain, and molecular studies show that their activation regulates early gene expression relating to perception, cognition, memory, language, and movement-from the frontal lobes to the hippocampus. Vitamin D affects not only differentiation of brain cell types from neural stem cells but also neurotransmitter release and the calcium signaling that opens the gates for all nerve activity. …

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