Home > Science > New Research on the Link Between Vitamin D and Autism

New Research on the Link Between Vitamin D and Autism

Recent reports have speculated on the role of Vitamin D in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). While no direct link to autism has been established, Vitamin D is an important dietary component and there is widespread concern about the increase in Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency across the world. The term “insufficiency” is used when there is biological evidence of a deficiency of Vitamin D in the absence of any clinical signs.

Autism Speaks is currently supporting research to better identify and characterize the role of Vitamin D, the genes which are activated by Vitamin D, and how environmental factors may mediate autism symptoms. Last year, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey released data collected from 2001 to 2004 showing that the prevalence of Vitamin D insufficiency is on the rise from previous years. Coincidentally, the Vitamin D council issued a report which hypothesized that these lower levels of Vitamin D may be associated with the increase in autism seen in the last decade.

In order to study this further, in 2010, two separate research groups in Sweden have studied the relationship between maternal and child Vitamin D levels in families affected with autism. Results showed that children with autism and their mothers both showed the lower Vitamin D levels compared to families with children with other conditions, such as depression. The group differences in Vitamin D levels was not statistically significant, however. The authors suggest that lower Vitamin D levels may be a predisposing factor in autism, not a specific cause.

These studies did not attempt to examine genetic variants associated with the Vitamin D hormone receptor (VDR). This receptor is activated by the active forms of Vitamin D, and signals target genes to turn on or off. Through its Environmental Factors Initiative, Autism Speaks is currently supporting a project at the University of California at Davis, led by Bruce Hammock, Ph.D. to investigate variants in the VDR and their relationship to immune problems in children enrolled in the on-going Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. This study will provide a more complete picture of the source of Vitamin D insufficiency, the biological consequences, and the contributions to autism and co-morbid symptoms. The goal is to possibly identify a group of children who would benefit from additional Vitamin D supplement therapy.

What does this mean for autism?

Studies examining the diet of children with autism suggest that some children on the spectrum may not be receiving proper nutritional values of foods rich in Vitamin E and D, as well as fiber and iron. The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines in 2008 to prevent Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in all children, including use of at least 400 IU Vitamin D supplements to ensure serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the form detected in blood) are at least 50 nmol/L. Because previous studies have not demonstrated a direct link between low Vitamin D and autism, families should talk to their doctors before beginning a therapy regimen that differs from current guidelines on dietary and sun exposure. Additional research in this area examining Vitamin D, as well as sources of Vitamin D, will identify possible gene x environment interactions in the role of this prohormone in ASD.

Learn more about the latest basic, clinical and treatments grants that Autism Speaks is funding.

  1. Mimi Brooks
    April 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I find this article very interesting. I just recently had blood work done and my Dr. requested a vitamin D level done. It was extremely low and I am now taking suppliments. I am going to look into supplimenting my daughter as well.

  2. Douglas McCabe
    April 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    As research continues on this and other areas of a possible gene-related nature, I believe the two concepts will finally be tied together. My suspicion is that vitamin deficiencies and neurological / cognitive issues are characteristics of the same chromosomal damage in multiple genes. I believe that much more research needs to be carried on before any findings can be reached and gene therapies can be experimented with. However, eventually it will be determined that these deficiencies which cause the body to have a problem metabolizing certain vitamins and minerals and those cellular deficiencies in creating links between the left and right frontal lobes of the brain, that cause the breakdown in communication or associations of two or more concepts (which leads to a dysfunction in the decision-making process) will be found to be the result of the same damaged chromosome.

  3. Tara Shade
    April 11, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    i have two sons. one has ASD and one does not. The one that was not was treated for low Vitamin D. makes you wonder?

  4. Kiley
    April 12, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Very interesting. I have difficulty metabolizing vitamins and minerals. Bloodwork has shown “low everything” even when I was eating well and taking vitamin supplements, on several occasions. I’ve taken prescriptions for it in the past, but am not doing that now. I’ve got two kids with Asperger’s and another one who is highly divergent and may or may not be in the spectrum depending on who you talk to.

  5. Heather
    April 13, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Interesting my pregnancy with my child on the spectrum was incredibly rough with me having lots of illness and trouble keeping foods down way after this symptom goes away for others. I was sick, preeclampsia, so many problems in the whole pregnancy. Plus about the time my child’s symptoms started really showing up, and she had regression issses we moved from a sunny state, with lots more sun exposure to a Northern state with less sun exposure, to produce Vit. D in the natural ways. So…I think this is good research, and way more should be done.

  6. dr. bushra rahman
    April 22, 2010 at 6:18 am

    v interesting to know all about it. we r trying to such work on iron deficient infants and their mothers to reduce lead levels . Its alarmingly high in pakistan.

  7. April 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    If you have a child with autism, it is not necessarily too late for vitamin D to help.

    Stop all vitamin A, including cod liver oil and give your child 2,000 to 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D3. These doses require a periodic blood test, a 25(OH)D to make sure that target levels of 100 ng/ml are achieved and to make sure 25(OH)D levels do not exceed 200 ng/ml, which is the lowest level that may cause toxicity.

    To read more about the Vitamin D councils theory of vitamin D and autism, read our may, 2007 newsletter at http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/newsletter/2007-may.shtml

    John Cannell, MD
    Vitamin D Council

  8. Lisa
    May 4, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Dr. Cannell,
    My son’s DAN doctor just put him on 5000iu/day of Vitamin d3 since his level was 9; he said this was the lowest he’s seen in his practice. I am very concerned about rickets and his regular ped is refusing to send him to an ortho at this point. He’s mad that I even saw the dAN doctor (who is the one who discovered the deficiency). What are the recommendations for following up to check about rickets? He is 20 months old and does have some leg bowing (I don’t know if this is because of the way he walks or not.)
    Also, is it possible that the body has trouble metabolizing Vitamin d and cannot store it? I’m just wondering what will happen if labs in a few months show that it is still low. (He is on the spectrum.)
    Thank you!

    • Jim
      May 14, 2010 at 8:04 am

      You should visit Dr Cannell’s website that was mentioned in his comment above. You can email him from there. There’s a wealth of information there about D and Autism, and you can subscribe to his newsletter to be kept up to date.

  9. Maureen Mitchell
    December 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I would love to hear of any improvements noticed after increasing the Vitamin D dosage. I just started my boys on 2000 iu’s a day today. One son is on the spectrum.

  10. July 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Vitamin D is good for pregnant woman. It is vital for the development of the fetus’ brain and is a significant factor in preventing respiratory infections and wheezing after birth.

  1. April 9, 2010 at 6:35 am
  2. October 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

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