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The autism puzzle: Latest research

Posted on: June 5, 2013   by  John Cannell, MD


Five researchers in Italy have proposed a comprehensive hypothesis for the etiology of the autism epidemic.

Gentile I, Zappulo E, Militerni R, Pascotto A, Borgia G, Bravaccio C. Etiopathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders: Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. Med Hypotheses. 2013 Apr 24.

First, I want to tell readers why I think the incidence of autism is actually increasing and that the increased incidence is not just due to better recognition. Autism is not a subtle disease; it is not easily missed. The children usually do not speak or have impaired verbal communication. They rarely have a single friend. They frequently perform repetitive behaviors, and they often fly into rages over a little change in their routine. There is nothing subtle about autism.

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12 Responses to The autism puzzle: Latest research

  1. Rita and Misty

    Dr. Cannell,

    This is a great article. (thank you)

    I have a young friend who is contemplating conceiving, but there are quite a few cases of autism within her husband’s immediate family. I hope it is okay with you that I share this piece with her? She is terribly afraid of having an autistic child.

    Parents certainly do add insult to injury by not providing their toddlers with adequate vitamin d supplementation, and by hiding them from the sun or slathering them with heavy sunblock.

    It’s obvious to me…many toddlers today receive littler (or no) vitamin d.

    Misconceived notions by the mainstream medical community, and propaganda of the sunscreen makers I feel are largely at fault here.

    But how can we correct this situation?

    From my outreach I can tell you that almost everyone I talk with stands in awe of his or her physician, and really most are in awe of the scientific community at large.

    I know of few parents who would disagree with a child’s pediatrician.

    And I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t have the absolute best intentions for the protection of his or her child’s health.

    Ironic and so sad that parental love has the potential to actually injure a child’s immune system, triggering the autoimmune disorder we know as autism.

    Dr. Cannell, I feel a need to state an apology here to you and the VDC community:
    I’m not a doctor or scientific researcher. I’m simply someone with a tremendous interest in the curative powers of sunlight and vitamin d.

    So, Dr. Cannell and VDC community, I must apologize for my constant comments and strong opinions. I am learning that a little enthusiasm can go a long way. And, I hope I haven’t been too overbearing or overwhelming in my posts…

    Really, I’m still in the learning stages of my vitamin d knowledge, and I truly count on the Vitamin D giants, like Dr. Cannell and Dr. Grant, their staff: Brant and Kate (and others too numerous to name)…I certainly have garnered most of my vitamin D knowledge from these extremely capable and courageous individuals. And this is why I always state that I am grateful to belong to the Vitamin D Council.

    Without the Vitamin D Council we’d all be at loss for the best, most up-to-date information on this essential pro-hormone.

    As I always say: We exist because we choose to belong.

    Be well,

  2. IAW

    To: Rita
    I also believe that until someone reaches the medical community on a large scale will you turn the tide. I believe your writing is exceptional and agree with your first 10 paragraphs but not the apology!

    So has anyone ever considered that if most small children are not getting enough Vitamin D, thus lowering their immune systems, that every immunization they get is putting a huge burden on there immune system. Is that why some parents say my child was fine until they got their (fill in the blank) immunization shot. Could this be the “insult” to their systems. I am most certainly NOTsaying that immunizations are a bad thing but giving them to a child with a low Vitamin D level could be a disaster. We in the U.S. have also increased the number of vaccines a child should get now adding to the immune burden. It may NOT be the vaccine rather the lack of Vitamin D causing the problems!

    So I have started to wonder how any medical science research on any subject can produce any kind of good results/information if you are not starting with subjects that have adequate Vitamin D levels! Many studies start with so called “healthy subjects” to run their studies. It is highly unlikely that anyone is “healthy” unless they belong to the Vitamin D Council.

  3. Rita and Misty

    IAW–Thank you for your kind words…

    I do truly think that all of today’s chronic health conditions experienced by the general public are directly related to vitamin d deficiency.

    If you aren’t taking at least 5,000 iu d3 daily, you are deficient.

    And if you are taking this amount, you may still be deficient. Please consider that I had been taking 6,000 iu d3 daily for years (and years)…only to test at 32 ng/ml–a number we here in the VDC community (correctly) recognize as deficient (thanks to Dr. Cannell 🙂 )

    IAW–regarding your thoughts on immunizations…my young friend from Monash and I were just discussing these same ideas last week over dinner. She currently keeps her 25(OH)D level at 80 ng/ml, but plans to raise it to 100 ng/ml prior to conceiving. Very few young woman are as smart as her.

    I hope we can grow and expand the Vitamin D Council and its membership. We are truly the only hope with respect to ending the vitamin d pandemic….

  4. D-fiant

    Hi Rita
    I am getting off topic, but I wanted to ask you something you said the other day.
    You appear to be on a high daily intake of Vit D …. what is your blood level please?
    I am taking 20,000/day so I can get to a high level quickly before I get back for my next prostate cancer check in about 2.5 months.
    I don’t know exactly my level today,probably about 65 to 70 ng/ml I had a test a few weeks ago and I was 59 ng/ml
    Confirmed now that I have pc.

  5. Rita and Misty


    I am due for a blood test this month. Actually, I should have tested on June 1st; however, life circumstances (don’t we all have ’em) have unfortunately slightly derailed (or perhaps deranged) me for the short term 🙂 Just ask my friends and colleagues..recently my game is off, and I’m sometimes not my typical sunshiney self. So, I’m also a bit delayed on all my routine tasks and duties.

    However, I can tell you that as of the beginning of January 2013, my 25(OH)D level was 104 ng/ml. I was taking 28,000 iu d3 during the fall, winter and spring months.

    As of June 1st, I dropped my d3 intake to 16,000 iu d3 daily, and I aim for approximately 2.5 hours of high sun (Connecticut style) per week.

    I can tell you that all men if they live long enough will have some sort of prostate issue. Many prostate cancers are so relatively slow growing that it is better to have a “hands off” approach regarding treatment, as these fortunate men will more than likely die with the cancer than from the cancer. For these men, any treatment is worse than the disease (really, truly).

    Unfortunately, for some men, there are prostate cancers which are fatal and/or quick moving.

    If you’re taking 20,000 iu 3 daily for about 3 months and your level is only around 60 ng/ml, I would say your body definitely needs and is utilizing this amount of d3.

    D-Fiant: I will gladly talk with you (or anyone else here) regarding my knowledge of vitamin d in general, prostate cancer in general, and what I’ve read specifically about vitamin d and prostate cancer, as well as some personal life (his)stories.

    But, please just remember that I am simply an average gal who is addicted to vitamin d research. I am not a healthcare professional, physician or scientific researcher (though how I wish I were).

    D-Fiant, please: No worries (worry only makes it worse),

    203-785-6269 (m-f, 9-5 ET)

  6. Ian

    I agree with Dr. Cannells hypothesis of the causes of autism. I would like to describe a situation in my family.

    My daughter’s partner has a brother (46 years) who is markedly autistic and was diagnosed at the age of 5. They do not know of any previous cases in their family.

    My daughter suffers from ME (CFS to Americans) with a moderately severe hypersensivitity to a variety of chemicals (sometimes known as MCS or IEI) and was “diagnosed” six months before the birth of her second son (now 9 years).

    Her son is what you would call mildly autistic (his older brother is normal),

    He seemed normal and healthy until 3 years old and
    until 12 months ago:

    He would not talk to anyone other than his parents, his brother and grandfather (me) (not even the teachers at school)
    In the mornings he would only whisper to us.
    he is exceptionally bright at maths and takes a strong almost obsessive interest in Astronomy, which his knowledge is exceptional.
    He had a very poor appetite and weighed only 19Kg (height 1.3 metres)
    His energy level and stamina were very low (typical of people with ME) and if “forced” to exert himself will suffer exhaustion for many hours.
    He had daily diarrhea.
    He wet his bed almost every night.
    He was noise intolerant, much of the day he wore ear-muffs.

    We put him on vitamin D 3000IU daily one year ago and ensured he had good sun exposure during the summer months (there is pently of it in Australia).

    Currently he talks to his teachers, albeit quietly.
    His energy level is much improved.
    His noise sensitivity has gone
    He has no diarrhea.
    Hi appetite is much improved and his weight is normal for his age
    He wets his bed rarely.
    He talks to all of the family in the mornings and has made several friends at school and goes to parties alone.

    I suspect there is a genetic variable but the the main problem was my daughters health at the time of pregnancy and birth. I suspect her vitamin D levels were exceedingly low.

    No one ever thought to test his vitamin D levels as a baby. Even if they had (10 years ago) I suspect they would have thought they were OK. It is almost impossible to get a vitamin D test in Australia and New Zealand, which I find deplorable.

  7. allometric24

    My granddaughter (now five) has been diagnosed with autism – fortunately mild and improving.
    She has been given adequate vitamin d from very early on – around 2000IU daily. She has never had any illness at all, which says something about the vitamin D I believe.
    I do know that her mother’s vitamin D levels prior to pregnancy were only in the mid forties nmol.
    Thus it seems that in this case foetal development may have been the main issue.

  8. D-fiant

    Hi Rita,
    Thanks for the info, all great stuff!!

    I hear you about stress, I find it hard to get on top of that, I told you our son’s story, (NHL) we are all home now, this is better, but stress is still there – been on Paroxetine for about a year, trying to get off them, they will send you into the “Horrors” – I tried to go cold turkey it was too powerful for me – after about a month of cutting back I am at about half strength, still getting the brain zaps from time to time, but I am winning by taking the long road.

    We bombed out trying to get stem cells from our son a couple of weeks back. That one little episode of a week to revisit the hospital again just about destroyed all three of us, I think it was losing the stem cell battle, he tried hard and he was so gripped by stress, he was actually shaking while hooked up to the machine, but I also got diagnosed with pc while he was there, so a double wammy.

    My wife’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer last week, had her op yesterday, (just removed the lump) doctors were very happy no spread to glands, but she is still to have radium for 6 weeks. I wonder what her Vitamin D level is? I did discuss Vit D with her a fair while back, she started taking a 2,000 iu a day (I think) most people ignore me, including my other two sons and their wives, (I still love them) so when she took something, I felt I had a win.

    And here is a “Kicker” my grandson is mildly autistic! (called high functioning) he is not getting any Vitamin D other than what he gets from the sun from time to time. He is a lovable little guy.

    Going out in the boat for a week maybe more, starting next Wednesday, that has gotta help!
    Blessings to you

  9. Ian

    The blood level of 40 nmol/L is only 16ng/ml. Woefully low for a pregnant woman. It means the baby was getting almost no vitamin D at all.. I think, from what Cannell’s theory of autism states, is that almost all cases of autism are being “set up” in-utero because of the low vitamin D levels, then it only takes an insult such as an infection affecting the mother’s immune system to cause aberrant neural development in some key brain areas. This would mean that failing to give the mother vitamin D before and during pregnancy an infant must be given high levels of vitamin D to minimise the faulty brain pattern development as early as possible. This applies to what they call Asperger’s syndrome too.

  10. Ian

    I suspect that an insult, or infection is just using up more of the available vitamin D making even less available for the foetus. We do know that when a person develops an infection or other illness that their vitamin D levels drop as a consequence of the “illness”. So it stands to reason that if the mother has an illness (of any kind that reduces available vitamin D) and her vitamin D levels are already low then the foetal blood is severely deficient and we would expect neural problems especially in the areas of brain development which occur later in the term.

    It may also be the case that the mothers pro-inflammatory cytokines, are increased as a result of her illness. In particular, IFN-gamma which is known to depolarize the mitochondrial membrane and reduce energetics for cell development. It has been known for a long time that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with a number of psycho-chemical illnesses, eg. autism, schizophrenia.

    So low vitamin D during a pregnant mother’s illness causes prolonged upregulation of IFN-gamma ( and maybe other pro-inflammatory cytokines) this cytokine is damaging/retarding/altering neural development. This can be prevented by increasing the mother’s levels of vitamin D to 60ng/ml or more one month before the pregnancy.

  11. Gary

    I work in paediatric services in the UK and regularly deal with Autism. In my humble opinion vitamin D is only part of the clinical picture. Vitamin D defiency is shown to influence the integrity of the gut, this is well established. Any child with a leaky gut however is unlikely to get complete recovery by just supplementing vitamin D. The gut is influenced by many factors such as previously bottle or breast fed, gut disbiosis, gluten sensitivity, cross reactivity to other antigens which will influence how zonulins behave in terms of keeping the gut intact.

    I my view gut integrity is the central issue in what is triggering autoimmune reactivity in autistic children. Hopefully future research will shine more light but in the mean time Dr Natasha Cambell McBrides GAP diet and work by Dr Tom O’Brien show hope for treatment of the future.

    But when I see in my clinic many children who by age 2-3 have already had several courses of antibiotics I am not surprised we are witnessing a health epedemic of gut problems.

  12. Rita and Misty

    I’m a March baby, and I have had over my lifetime so many of the health problems associated with being born at the very end of the winter, which is as we know, the lowest point for vitamin D blood levels.

    It’s no secret here that I keep my 25(OH)D level very high. For me it has had a tremendously positive impact upon my personality.

    I will share with you that although I still very much need to recharge my internal battery in solitude, my personality is sparkling for 8 hours out of every day. And I can masquerade very nicely as an extrovert without any ill effects–just as long as I know I can get to crash in private for 16 hours. I guess no one would call me a social butterfly.

    I am only halfway between Neurotypical and Aspie. But much more able to handle the Neurotypical world since raising my 25(OH)D level to the very highest level of optimal.

    If you sit on the ASD spectrum consider raising that level to 100 ng/ml.

    I feel wonderful.

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