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.


A natural way to help SAD

SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder

I’m looking out of the window and it’s a grey, cold, overcast day. Just the sort of day that encourages Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is associated with a lack of energy and depression. In some 8% of people it’s serious enough to need treatment, but in some degree it affects at least a quarter of us. And almost all of us feel less upbeat after a spell of gloomy weather.

SAD – or the ‘winter blues’ – is caused by insufficient sunlight. The result is a general lethargy and, in some people, sleep problems, lower libido and an urge to overeat. There’s even a charity devoted to helping victims of SAD.

The connection with mood is because light passes through the eye to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the production of many of your hormones – including oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone.

Lack of sunlight in winter months leads to insufficient vitamin D

Lack of sunlight is responsible for even more serious conditions than a general feeling of malaise.

If you are like the majority of people in our modern world, you work indoors almost all the time. Then you go home, cook and relax by reading or watching TV – so you continue to be indoors.

The result is that you don’t get enough sunlight and therefore you don’t get enough vitamin D. Yet we are evolved to absorb sunlight and when we do not get enough, our bodies don’t function well.

Vitamin D plays a major role in maintaining overall health. It regulates over 1,000 different genes – upregulating health-promoting genes and downregulating health-threatening genes.

Vitamin D and cancer

Research shows that sub-optimal levels of vitamin D3 in the blood are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, possibly multiple sclerosis and an increased risk of various forms of cancer, including breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Significantly, researchers have tracked mortality rates from breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon, and ovarian cancer and found them lower in the sunnier states of the USA.

Cells in your body have vitamin D “receptors”, and the presence of these specific receptors mean vitamin D is actually a hormone, rather than a vitamin.

 We know that vitamin D plays an important role in how cells develop. So it is perhaps not surprising that when vitamin D is directly applied to ‘D receptors’ in the laboratory, cancer cells stop growing and multiplying, according to research published by the National Cancer Institute in America.

Although all males who lack adequate levels of vitamin D are more vulnerable to prostate problems, males originally of African origin are especially at risk of prostate cancer.

Optimum vitamin D lowers risk of dementia and heart disease

Sub-optimal levels of vitamin D can be injurious to health generally and they are also linked to dementia. In fact, a 7 year study published in the US National Library of Medicine shows that low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of dementia almost 20 times!

Vitamin D deficiency is also very common in people with cardiovascular disease. A 2010 survey showed that almost all people with heart failure have reduced D levels. So much so that low vitamin D status is now acknowledged as an independent predictor for arterial diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.

There are dozens of studies that show you need vitamin D to maintain your cardiovascular health. But in the winter it’s virtually impossible to get the level you need from sunlight. And few foods can provide enough to make up the difference.

Take a vitamin D3 supplement

A supplement of vitamin D3 – the natural version that is created by sunlight – is the answer.

But it’s important to make sure you’re taking the proper dose. Studies of cardiovascular patients who take only an average of 500 IU a day generally show little benefit, whereas those taking 2,000 IU do.

Vitamin D and diabetes

People with diabetes have lower levels of vitamin D than the general population. A vitamin D deficiency makes you almost twice as likely to progress to insulin resistance, the pre-cursor of diabetes or ‘pre-diabetes’. And more than doubles your risk for progressing to type II diabetes (see references).

On the other hand, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a supplement level of vitamin D3 at 2,000 IU a day slows the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes.

When overweight, non-diabetic adults supplemented with 2,000 IU/day of vitamin D or a placebo for 16 weeks, the vitamin D group had significantly improved insulin secretion and glucose clearance from their blood. The control subjects saw a worsening of these markers.

Ensuring that you have an optimum intake of vitamin D is essential to combat SAD and protect against cancer, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.

One a day vitamin pills with just the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA/RNI) are sub-optimal, as the RDA/RNI in the UK and EU is inadequate, particularly for winter.

You can get a free report by Dr Paul Clayton and Colin Rose on the case for optimum vitamin D and advice from this link.


If you enjoyed this article, please share it with family and friends. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter for daily headline health tweets.

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Youtube

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

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 booksellers.

Read it here online or 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


Serum vitamin D deficiency as a predictor of incident non-Alzheimer dementias: a 7-year longitudinal study. Annweiler C, Rolland Y, Schott AM, Blain H, Vellas B, Beauchet O. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2011;32(4):273-8.

Vitamin D deficiency and myocardial diseases. Pilz S, Tomaschitz A, Drechsler C, Dekker JM, Marz W Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Aug;54(8):1103-13

Vitamin D status and peripheral arterial disease: evidence so far. Chua GT, Chan YC, Cheng SW.. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2011;7:671-5.

Recruitment and results of a pilot trial of vitamin D supplementation in the general population of Australia. Tran B, Armstrong BK, Carlin JB, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Dec;97(12):4473-80.

Lipoprotein lipase links vitamin D, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes: a cross-sectional epidemiological study. Huang Y, Li X, Wang M, et al. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2013;12:17.

Effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on pancreatic beta cell function, insulin sensitivity, and glycemia in adults at high risk of diabetes: the Calcium and Vitamin D for Diabetes Mellitus (CaDDM) randomized controlled trial. Mitri J, Dawson-Hughes B, Hu FB, Pittas AG.. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):486-94.