How is Vitamin D Linked to Autism?
Vitamin D is crucial for many important functions in your body from immune health and bone development to combatting inflammation and controlling blood sugar, but did you know a lack of vitamin D may contribute to the development of autism?
Science is discovering more about vitamin D every day and some of these studies are pointing towards a link with autism.
Read on to find out more about this incredible nutrient.
The Many Functions of Vitamin D
Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin. Cells all over your body, including in your brain, have receptors for vitamin D. In fact, it’s incredibly important for brain health and development because this vitamin has the job of regulating at least 800 genes.
Some of the genes relying on vitamin D are involved in:
- Brain development. Vitamin D helps brain cells to grow, as well as affecting how they change into different types of cells during brain growth. This is called cellular differentiation.
- Signalling processes directing which brain cells grow and change and which ones survive.
- Controlling changes in synapses, the junctions between brain cells allowing them to communicate with each other. This process is known as synaptic plasticity and helps memory and learning.
- Brain cell communication, influencing how cells signal to each other.
- The conduction of nerve impulses between brain neurones or from brain cells to muscle fibres. If this conductivity is altered, neurones may fire inappropriately, creating increased brain activity.
Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Scientific findings suggest vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood can increase the likelihood of developing autism. One study found mothers lacking vitamin D were twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism. Other research discovered children born with low blood levels of vitamin D were significantly more likely to develop autism compared with those born with adequate or high levels of the vitamin.
Scientists looked at vitamin D levels three months after conception, at birth and at eight years old and discovered children who were autistic or who later developed autism had less vitamin D in their blood compared to their siblings without autism.
Another study gave vitamin D supplements to pregnant mothers already with an autistic child. Their children also received vitamin D during infancy and early childhood. The likelihood of the mothers having a second child develop autism was reduced from 20% to 5%.
Vitamin D in Early Life
One large research study gave some children with autism a supplement containing vitamin D, while others were given a dummy pill, a placebo, with no vitamin D. After four months, the children receiving vitamin D displayed significantly improved behaviours seen in autism including irritability, hyperactivity, social withdrawal, stereotypical behaviour and using inappropriate words. Meanwhile, the placebo group didn’t experience any significant improvements.
The children who received the vitamin D developed increased cognitive awareness, improved ability to understand the emotions, needs and concerns of others, and better social interaction compared to those not taking vitamin D. The supplements significantly decreased behaviours like repeated hand movements, making random noises, jumping, and intense interests in specific topics.
When you think about it, these findings are not surprising in view of the discoveries about the importance of Vitamin D for normal brain development. These studies pave the way for more research into how vitamin D may affect brain function.
Genes and Vitamin D
Your newborn relies on you for their vitamin D as it’s contained in breast milk. In turn, you make your vitamin D from sunlight because it’s not commonly found in food.
Your cells’ receptors for vitamin D are manufactured in response to instructions from your VDR gene. Some people have genetic changes to this gene meaning their cells don’t easily recognise vitamin D or their bodies can’t efficiently transform sunshine into vitamin D. If you’re affected, you’ll need higher levels of vitamin D to achieve the same benefit as other people, and you’ll likely have little of the vitamin to pass on to your child.
What Can You Do to Maximise Vitamin D?
- Are you mum to a child with autism and planning another pregnancy?
Contact me, because we can work on prevention. Vitamin D is only the beginning of your journey. Autism is a complex disorder, and we can work with many tools when considering prevention.
- Are you a parent and wondering if your child needs a vitamin D supplement and if so, what would be the best dose? Are you interested in determining your child’s vitamin D level?
Let’s work together to increase your child’s vitamin D safely, at a therapeutic level to support mood, brain development and brain function. We can use vitamin D to improve how your child’s synapses talk to each other, and to help their brain cells replicate, change and grow. Nutritional strategies can also support the lining of your child’s gut to reduce leaky gut and leaky brain barriers.