In a recent clinical review on autism and vitamin D, Dr. Eva Kocovska and colleagues from the University of Glasgow called for “urgent research” on vitamin D’s role in autism.
The body of the paper consisted of a review of the 35 papers published to date that deal directly with autism and vitamin D. Here were their areas of interest and the studies they reviewed.
On vitamin D blood levels
Four studies have looked at vitamin D levels in autistic children or their mothers and all have found low levels (<30 ng/ml) in autistic children. One found no difference in vitamin D levels between autistic children and boys with acute inflammation (a curious control), while the other three found differences, some significant and some not. One study found Somali mothers with autistic children had average vitamin D levels of 6.7 ng/ml, about 30% lower than Somali mothers without autistic children.
On vitamin D intake
The authors examined about a dozen papers that looked at vitamin D intake in autistic children, all finding that most autistic children do not meet vitamin D intake requirements for their age. On a side note, the authors also mention that magnesium has a crucial role in brain development and function. As readers know, magnesium deficiencies are the rule, not the exception in most Americans.
On brain development and function
The authors reviewed the numerous ways vitamin D is involved in brain development and function, including:
- Synaptic development
- Nerve migration and growth
- Neurotransmission, both excitatory and inhibitory
- Preventing excessive cell proliferation
- Orchestrating signaling pathways in the brain
- Cell differentiation
- Nerve growth factor expression
- Regulation of inflammatory cytokines
- Neurotransmitter synthesis
- Intra-neuronal calcium signaling
- Anti-oxidant activity
- Control of the expression of genes involved in brain structure and metabolism
- Regulation of glutathione, the master antioxidant and heavy metal remover
- Protection from glutamate toxicity
On autism, vitamin D and seizures
I was surprised at the number of studies showing the connection between vitamin D, seizures and autism. Up to 30% of children with autism have seizures, and it may be as easy as giving a vitamin D supplement to reduce seizures.
A recent study showed in a statistically significant finding that in States where exclusive breastfeeding is the highest, autism incidence is also the highest. Remember, unless the mother takes 5,000 IU/day and has a vitamin D level > 40 ng/ml, breast milk contains little vitamin D.
Yes, as I have been saying since 2006, there is a need for “urgent research in the field.”