Recent studies suggest that vitamin D is critical for more than just bone health. It turns out “the sunshine vitamin” may be at the core of the mystery surrounding the distressing and fast-growing phenomenon of autism, even preventing it.
According to recent estimates, 1 of every 110 children living in the United States has autism — a pervasive developmental disorder linked to abnormal biology and chemistry in the brain. Autism is a spectrum disorder with effects that range from mild to heartbreaking.
Primarily, the syndrome impairs development of social skills, with serious negative consequences for. . .
- Motor skills
- Academic success
- Cognitive abilities
Rates of autism are on a startling upward trajectory, rising by 10% to 17% every year. But so far, researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint what causes this complex brain disorder. Without a known cause, a cure is even more elusive.
Most experts agree, though, that autism is most likely caused by a combination of environmental factors and a genetic predisposition.
One highly compelling theory is that insufficient levels of vitamin D may trigger the onset of autism. The vitamin D theory is advocated strongly by respected psychiatrist and executive director of the Vitamin D Council, John Cannell.
According to Cannell, low levels of plasma vitamin D leave the brain vulnerable to the development of cognitive disorders such as autism.
Other experts have supported Cannell’s theory. In an article in Scientific American, autism expert Gene Stubbs, associate professor emeritus of psychology at Oregon Health and Science University, said, “we don’t have proof, but I’m certainly leaning in the direction that this hypothesis could be correct.”
Cannell’s vitamin D deficiency theory suggests that inadequate intake of vitamin D is linked to abnormal development of crucial hormones and proteins in the fetal brain.
Calcitriol, the scientific name for the active form of vitamin D in the blood, plays a key role in . . .
- Bone mineralization
- Brain cell growth
- Brain cell receptor molecules
A lack of vitamin D hampers the development of 36 important proteins while a baby is in utero.
A 2007 review by Allan Kalueff published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care concluded that adequate vitamin D during gestation and early childhood is necessary for the development of typical cognitive functioning.
The vitamin D theory is backed by a wealth of evidence for this vitamin’s crucial role in brain development. But the theory also helps to explain the rapid rise of autism in recent years. With putting the word out there, many futyre mothers can take more vitamin D supplements in hopes of preventing autism.
It’s All Tied to… Sunshine!
On average, humans produce 90% of our vitamin D naturally when our unprotected skin is exposed to sunlight.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting enough sunshine. Ever since strong warnings about sun exposure and skin cancer were raised by organizations such as the American Medical Association, widespread behavior changes have taken place in the population. People spend less time in direct sunlight, and habitual use of sunscreen has skyrocketed.
As a result, many people just don’t get the sunlight their bodies need to generate adequate vitamin D.
Studies support the link between vitamin D and preventing autism. For example, researchers at Cornell found that children in rainier — and therefore more overcast — counties in Oregon, Washington, and California are twice as likely to be diagnosed with autism than their counterparts in sunnier areas of those same states.
In light of strong medical evidence supporting a link between insufficient vitamin D and autism, it seems wise that vitamin D levels for pregnant women, infants, and young children be monitored carefully, and supplemented if needed.
Some health experts recommend that ideally, one should maintain vitamin D levels equal to those of individuals living in sun-rich environments — that’s about 50 to 80 ng/mL. The proper initial dosages for daily vitamin D (cholecalciferol) supplements are . . .
- 2,000 IU for pregnant women
- 800 IU for breast-feeding infants
- 400 IU for formula-feeding infants
- 1,000 to 2,000 IU for toddlers and young children
Before beginning vitamin D supplementation, it’s important to determine the levels of vitamin D already present in your blood. Dr. Joseph Mercola recommends using a simple blood test called the 25(OH)D test — or 25-hydroxyvitamin D test.
This is the most accurate way to check your vitamin D levels. The normal range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Based on one’s numbers, the appropriate dosage of vitamin D can be determined.
Autism has no cure. There are treatments, including behavioral and drug therapies, that can help lessen the impact. But individuals with autism and the families they belong to will face life-long challenges.
Simple and inexpensive preventive measures, such as supplementing with an adequate daily dose of vitamin D, could make all the difference in the early stages of brain development.