Autism linked to vitamin D deficiency

Autism* linked to Vitamin D deficiency

*and other brain development issues

30 years ago the rate of autism was no more than 1 child in 2,500. Today it is 1 in 100 according to the UK National Autistic Society.

It may even be as high as 1 in 68 in the USA, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s an astonishing 3,500% increase (using the US figures) in a generation, or 35 times more common.

Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy a key factor

Although it is undoubtedly partly due to better diagnosis, researchers at the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute have identified vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy as a key factor.

The study, led by researcher Professor John McGrath, found that pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were 400% or 4 times more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.

“This study provides further evidence that low vitamin D is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Professor McGrath, who had previously found a link between low vitamin D in neo-natal blood and an increased risk of schizophrenia.

“Just as taking folate in pregnancy has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, the result of this study suggests that prenatal Vitamin D supplements may reduce the incidence of autism.

“It’s feasible that a safe, inexpensive, and publicly accessible vitamin D supplement in at-risk groups may reduce the prevalence of this risk factor.”

Protection conferred by vitamin D

Dr Eva Morales of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Spain measured vitamin D levels in 1,820 pregnant women. When the infants were 14 months of age, neurocognitive and psychomotor testing revealed that mothers with vitamin D blood levels above 40 ng/ml had infants with the best developed brains.

That level of vitamin D in the blood implies a vitamin D intake of at least 25 mcg or 1,000 IU a day. The northern hemisphere average intake is 6 times less – 4 mcg or 150 IU a day.

Another study in Pediatrics found a strong association between maternal vitamin D deficiency and reduced language development in the child.

D supplements can help children with autism

Vitamin D supplementation may even help children who already have the condition. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reported in 2016 that 109 children with autism spectrum disorder were randomised to receive four months of vitamin D3 supplementation or a placebo.

Dr Khaled Saad, lead author of the study, stated:

“Autism symptoms – such as hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and others – improved significantly following vitamin D3 supplementation but not after receiving placebo.”

Vitamin D is now the most common nutritional deficiency in both children and adults, with the British Medical Journal estimating that at least 50% of children are deficient.

By deficient they mean below the UK Recommended Daily Allowance RDA for vitamin D. But that is just 5 mcg or 200 IU – far below the level that key vitamin D researchers are saying is optimal.

How vitamin D may reduce autism and abnormal brain development

Maternal vitamin D depletion can impair the expression of critical growth factors in developing brain tissue.

Foetal brain cells multiply at an astonishing rate during pregnancy. By birth, a baby will have 100 billion brain cells. Each one of these can communicate with up to 15,000 other cells but if these connections are compromised, neurologic disorders, such as autism and even multiple sclerosis (MS), can develop.

Bruce Ames is a highly respected professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Using the University of California’s genome database, he identified three genes that are abnormally expressed in autism and then showed, for the first time, that these genes are responsive to regulation by vitamin D.

Serotonin (and oestrogen producing a serotonin precursor)

One of the key findings of this work was that vitamin D increases production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) involved in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. It’s also necessary for normal brain development.

A shortage of serotonin can lead to many of the classic symptoms of autism. They include reduced impulse control and ability to develop socialisation skills.

Fascinatingly, Dr Ames’s work may also explain why autism is 5 times more prevalent in boys than girls. The female sex hormone oestrogen is known to increase the production of a precursor to serotonin. So girls’ brains, with higher levels of serotonin, may be better protected from the adverse effects of vitamin D deficiency, while boys’ brains are more vulnerable.


In yet another insight, the Ames research indicates that low levels of vitamin D may lead to low production of oxytocin – the so-called ‘love hormone’. Oxytocin is, of course, known to play an important part in socialisation and bonding. Indeed, when adults with autism were given oxytocin, their ability to socialise improved.

Enough vitamin D in pregnancy is vital

In light of these new findings linking lack of vitamin D to autism, it’s vital that pregnant women and children get enough of the nutrient. Indeed the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists now recommends that pregnant women use 1,000 – 2,000 IU of vitamin D, instead of the 400 IU currently present in most “prenatal vitamins”. However, all pregnant women should consult with their own doctors before supplementation.

Vitamin D is important to everybody’s health. Besides autism, vitamin D deficiency is linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, low immune function and osteoporosis.

For a full free report on the vital role of vitamin D go here now.

And if anyone in your family might plan for a baby sometime in the future, do make them aware of this important new research.


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Yvitamind-as-buttonou can buy Vitamin D3 (the preferred form of natural Vitamin D) from here. Our special introductory offer is for 1 bottle of 120 capsules of 2,000IU D3 free when you buy 2.

Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive healthbutton-2 supplement with OPTIMUM levels of essential nutrients. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.

Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from most good bookstores.

See the website for excerpts and links to buy direct from the publisher.

See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook  incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet. Combined 3 courses strip

References: Solving autism-vitamin-d-and-serotonin-synthesis

The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care

Morales E, Guxens M, Llop S, Rodríguez-Bernal CL, Tardón A, Riaño I, Ibarluzea J, Lertxundi N, Espada M, Rodriguez A, Sunyer J; on behalf of the INMA Project. Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D3 in Pregnancy and Infant Neuropsychological Development. Pediatrics. 2012 Sep 17.

Whitehouse AJ, Holt BJ, Serralha M, Holt PG, Kusel MM, Hart PH. Maternal serum vitamin D levels during pregnancy and offspring neurocognitive development. Pediatrics. 2012 Mar;129(3):485-93.

McCann JC, Ames BN (2008) Review Article: Is there convincing biological or behavioral evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to brain dysfunction? FASEB J. 22: 982-1001.


Nutrition can help depression

University research shows that certain health supplements and combinations of foods and nutrients can not only improve overall mood but even reduce the incidence, length and severity of depression.

Omega 3

Rollmop-caper-bruschettaPeople who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids are generally more susceptible to depression and low mood. The brain has a high component of fatty acids and about 30% of these are Omega 3, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Intake of Omega 3 assists the production of dopamine –  the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter that responds to pleasurable experiences. Walnuts are a good source of plant-based Omega 3, but the body metabolises plant omega 3 less efficiently than fish oil.


Gelbwurz / CurryThe health benefits of curcumin (derived from turmeric) are well documented and wide ranging. It’s known to be an anti-inflammatory, has anti-cancer properties and is neuroprotective. But research published by The US National Institutes of Health now indicates it may even be as effective as Prozac (fluoxetine) – but without the side effects.

Their conclusion: “This study provides first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with MDD [major depressive disorder] without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.”


Studies at the University of Wales have shown that people who are low in selenium have increased rates of depression, anxiety and tiredness and that optimising selenium intake helps raise mood and reduce depression.


Chromium is a trace mineral involved in the regulation of insulin and thus metabolism. It has an important role in raising the brain’s level of serotonin and melatonin which help the brain regulate emotion, mood and sleep. Research at Duke University in the US has found that supplementation helps in the treatment of depression.


Magnesium has an important role in the development of serotonin, which is a major contributor to feelings of happiness. Researchers in Austin, Texas have shown that supplementation contributes to an improvement in mood and a reduction in depression.

Vitamin D

sun-F-247x185If there ever was a super-nutrient, it is surely vitamin D. Most people are depleted in Vitamin D, especially in the 5 months of winter. In addition to its role in supporting the production of healthy cells and a strong immune system, a major study at the Chicago School of Nursing has shown that Vitamin D supplementation improves mood and reduces depression. Their conclusion?

… Treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life”.


Zinc is a vital trace mineral needed for a strong immune system. In addition, Canadian researchers have found that it can help treat depression.

Vitamin B6

Researchers in a large UK hospital have successfully used vitamin B6 in the treatment of PMS depression. B6 is essential in regulating general brain function.

Folic Acid/Folate

spinchFolate, the B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, assists in the regulation of serotonin and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. They are both important in the passing of messages between brain cells. Researchers at the Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory in Surrey have combined folic acid and vitamin B12 to help treat depression. Folate or folic acid may also increase the effectiveness of the anti-depressant fluoxetine.


bananaThe amino acid tryptophan – in conjunction with vitamin B6 – raises the level of the hormone serotonin, which in turn helps elevate your mood. Deficiencies in B6 can cause a lowering of immune function and depression. Bananas not only contain tryptophan but vitamin B6, and fibre.  Fibre helps ensure that energy is slowly released into the bloodstream, so it helps keep your blood sugar and mood stable. The opposite is a ‘sugar rush’ where blood sugar levels rise but then dip quickly, leaving you feeling irritable.

Other foods that are above average in tryptophan are chicken and turkey.

Lentils, oats and whole grains

These are complex carbohydrates which have a low GI (Glycaemic Index), which helps stabilise your blood sugar levels and therefore mood.

Dark chocolate

Broken dark chocolate and chocolate flakes on a wooden tableIn a recent study, 30 people were given just 40g of dark chocolate a day, over 14 days. They produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased. A small square of dark chocolate contains polyphenols which cause the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels.


A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition linked higher calcium intake to lower levels of PMS-related depression. This makes sense as (o)estrogen plays a significant role in calcium production. There was no indication, however, that increased calcium had any effect on male moods.


Flower crocus and dried saffron spiceIn an innovative study at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, 50 women with PMS were given just 15 mg of saffron daily over two menstrual cycles.  By the end of the study, over three-quarters of the women reported that their PMS symptoms (such as mood swings and depression) declined by at least half, compared with only 8 percent of women in the placebo group.

Green tea

Green tea contains high levels of the amino acid theanine, which has been shown to be an anti-stress relaxant.

Conclusion – Mediterranean Diet plus supplement

I am conscious that if you suffer from depression or just want to boost your general mood, a list like this can be both encouraging but also a bit confusing.

But the overall conclusion is that there is evidence from many clinical trials that a largely Mediterranean Diet supported by a supplement that safely increases your intake of curcumin, Omega 3, vitamin D3, B vitamins, folic acid, zinc, chromium, selenium and green tea extract is very likely to help.

NutriShield contains all these nutrients at effective levels.


If you enjoyed this article, please share it with family and friends (see buttons below).

CTA Register NewsletterAnd register now for a free e-newsletter on the latest in nutrition and health research.

You can follow us on or for daily headline health tweets.

Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive healthbutton-2 supplement with OPTIMUM levels of essential nutrients. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.

Health Defence bookDr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from most good bookstores. See the website for excerpts and links to buy direct from the publisher.

See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook  incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet. Combined 3 courses strip


Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, Tripathi CB. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):579-85. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5025. Epub 2013 Jul 6.

Benton D. Selenium intake, mood and other aspects of psychological functioning. Nutritional Neuroscience 2002

Haag, M. Department of Physiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Essential fatty acids and the brain. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2003, 2003 Apr; 48(3):195-203

Jacka, F.N., Pasco, J.A., Mykletun, A., et al. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women.  Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2010 Mar; 167(3):305-11

Kemper, K., Shannon, S. Pediatric Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies to Promote Healthy Moods. Clinics of North America, 2007 December; 54(6): 901–926

Sue Penckofer, PhD, RN, Joanne Kouba, PhD, RD, Mary Byrn, BSN, RN, and Carol Estwing Ferrans, PhD, RN, FAAN. Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun; 31(6): 385–393.doi:  10.3109/01612840903437657

Thys-Jacobs S. Metabolic Bone Micronutrients and the premenstrual syndrome: the case for calcium. Center, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia University, New York, New York. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2000 Apr; 19 (2):220-7

Docherty, J.P., Sack, D.A., Roffman, M. et al. Effectiveness of chromium in atypical depression: a placebo-controlled trial. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina. Biological Psychiatry, 2003 Feb 1; 53(3):261-4

Coppen, A., Bolander-Gouaille, C. Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. MRC Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory, Surrey, UK. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2005 Jan; 19(1):59-65

Coppen A, Bailey J. Enhancement of the antidepressant action of fluoxetine by folic acid: a randomized, placebo controlled trial. Journal of Affect Disorders. 2000 Nov; 60(2):121–130

Conklin, S.M., Harris, J.I., Manuck, S.B., et al. Serum omega-3 fatty acids are associated with variation in mood, personality and behavior in hypercholesterolemic community volunteers.  Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Postdoctoral Training Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Psychiatry Research, 2007 Jul 30; 152(1):1-10

Wyatt, K.M., Dimmock, P.W., Jones, P.W. Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of PMS. Academic Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, North Staffordshire Hospital. BMJ, 1999 May 22’318 (7195): 1375-81

Eby, G.A., Eby, K.L. Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis. George Eby Research Institute, Austin, Texas. Medical Hypotheses. 2010 Apr;74(4):649-60

Milaneschi, Y., Hoogendijk, W., Lips, P., et al. The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders. Department of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research and Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Molecular Psychiatry 2013 Apr 9

Swardfager, W., Herrmann, N., McIntyre, R.S., et al. Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder. Neuropharmacology Research Group, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, Canada. Neuroscience and Bio-behavioral Review 2013 Jun;37(5):911-29