Can Vitamin D help prevent autism?

High vitamin D intake during pregnancy may result in a lower likelihood of autism spectrum disorder in children, according to a recent Australian study. Researchers at the University of Queensland utilized a widely acceptable autism model in mice. The mice showed adverse symptoms such as abnormal behavior and basic learning and social interaction deficits, the researchers noted

Research data revealed that pregnant mice on vitamin D treatment gave birth to offspring that did not show behaviors associated with autism. The results of the animal study, which received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, demonstrate that vitamin D level is a key contributor in brain development, lead researcher Professor Darryl Eyles stated.

“Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol — the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women — is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream. This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women,” said researcher Dr. Wei Luan. 

The findings appear in the journal Molecular Autism.

Vitamin D, ASD link more pronounced in human studies

A vast number of human studies have already proven a correlation between vitamin D levels and autism onset in children.

Autism researchers at China’s First Hospital of Jilin University found that daily oral intake and monthly injection of vitamin D3 resulted in marked behavioral improvements in a 32 month-old toddler with autism. Researchers said, the toddler was more responsive, stopped banging his head, and running in circles at two months following the vitamin D treatment. However, data from the single case study cannot be taken as a general representation for all patients with autism prectrum disorder, researchers said. The findings were published in Pediatrics. Two other human studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D may exacerbate the risk of developing autism.

A previous study found that low vitamin D levels during pregnancy may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder in children. Data on 4,200 blood samples from pregnant women and children showed that those who had low vitamin D levels during the 20th week of pregnancy had increased odds of giving birth to children who will exhibit autism-related behavior by the age of six. Researchers said the results demonstrate that vitamin D deficiency maybe linked to the onset of neurological diseases. The increased availability of safe and less expensive vitamin D supplements may help reduce the prevalence of known risk factors associated with autism, the experts added.

Another study reveled that children with autism spectrum disorder exhibited significantly lower vitamin D levels at birth compared with their siblings. The small Swedish study examined 58 pairs of siblings and showed that the average vitamin D level was only 24 nanomoles per liter in children with autism, compared with 31.9 nM in their healthier siblings.

Children born during winter also had lower vitamin D levels compared with those born during summer, according to the researchers. Low vitamin D level was also more pronounced in children of African and Middle Eastern descent, researchers added.

“These new results suggest that vitamin D may be another nutritional factor important in the development of autism spectrum disorder during pregnancy and early life. The researchers found a wide range of vitamin D levels among the children with autism and an overlap in vitamin D levels between those who developed the disorder and those who did not. So there’s still much we don’t understand,” said Dr. Paul Wang, a developmental pediatrician and head of medical research at Autism Speaks.

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