Should I Give My Child With Autism A Vitamin D Supplement?

There’s a lot of good information in here that’s really going to help you with your child, so let’s get straight to it.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a potent neurosteroid important for brain neural development and antioxidant mechanisms. The cerebrospinal fluid contains vitamin D and enzymes, which take part in vitamin D synthesis in the brain. 

Vitamin D acts on genomic and non-genomic pathways. That’s really important. 

  • Genomic pathways. Vitamin D forms a complex and then can regulate certain gene expression.
  • Non-genomic pathways. Vitamin D is involved in several signaling pathways mediated by kinases and phosphatases. 

You’re probably thinking kinase phosphatase. What’s that? You can think of it just as red light, green light. Kinase turns a protein on and phosphatase turns a protein off. They do that with some elegant chemistry, but you can basically think of it as red light, green light system of a cell where the proteins are turned on or off. Vitamin D is involved in several of the signaling pathways that are mediated by kinases and phosphatases. 

Vitamin D acts on genomic pathways by regulating gene expression as well as non-genomic pathways which are involved in proteins, turning them on and off. Amazing. Right?

An association has been established between autism and vitamin D with these implicating factors:

  • sunlight exposure
  • skin pigmentation
  • season of birth
  • location latitude

Vitamin D Availability

Vitamin D is converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin D (abbreviated 25 (OH)D) by the CYP27A1 in the liver or intestine. Basically that’s saying when you have vitamin D in your body, this cytochrome converts the vitamin D into a metabolite. 

This one metabolite 25 (OH)D is the major circulating form of vitamin D in our body, and it has a long half-life. Therefore, it’s the best indicator of served vitamin D levels. When you go and get a blood test for vitamin D, it’s technically measuring this vitamin D metabolite as opposed to the actual molecule of vitamin D. 

They do that because it has a long half-life, and it’s the best indicator of vitamin D levels. And vitamin D blood tests can easily be ordered by your doctor.

2008 is when the theory about decreased vitamin D levels via sun avoidance, and the association with autism was first scientifically published. So a lot of this information and a lot of these questions, a lot of this research is relatively new. Less than 10 years.

Clinical Studies Of Vitamin D And Autism

There have been a few, and I’ll go through four of them here with you.

1. Egyptian children with ASD have significantly lower levels of 25(OH)D as well as lower calcium serum values compared to healthy controls.

2. Another study compared the vitamin D metabolite level and US Caucasian boys with autism who were 4-8 years old. They used a control group of typically developing children who were having outpatient tonsillectomies. Now, why they chose that as a control group, I do not know. 

But what is really interesting was that they found no differences observed in the levels of the vitamin D metabolite. But the majority of all the children had very low levels of 25 (OH)D of the vitamin D metabolite. That’s pretty amazing. Not too shocking but it’s definitely a scientific fact to note.

3. In 2010 a group of adult outpatients, so this was adults with psychiatric disorders we’re tested for the vitamin D metabolite levels and found that those who had autism or schizophrenia had significantly lower levels than the others. This study also demonstrated considerable improvement in several patients when they were given vitamin D treatment, so psychosis and depression improved. 

That’s pretty amazing, right? It’s just vitamin D.

4. Another study of mothers in Somali origin with children with autism in Sweden found that the mothers of the children with autism had the lowest levels of vitamin D. So those are four clinical studies of vitamin D and autism. 

Vitamin D & Autism

One of the suggested mediating roles of vitamin D in autism is its involvement in the absorption of magnesium, and magnesium plays a critical role in brain development. And magnesium also plays a critical role in sleep.

The absorption of magnesium requires adequate levels of parathyroid hormone and vitamin D. So again, vitamin D, magnesium -there’s an interplay there. Nutrition season and sun exposure are all important factors. This is where it starts getting a little bit more interesting. Dietary vitamin D is absorbed predominantly in the small intestine. 

So gut health is very important.

Vitamin D And The Gut

There’s a wonderful quote from a great scientific article.

For a long time, the gut has been known to be major target tissue of vitamin D.

Vitamin D and the gut is freaking amazing. Here’s another metabolite. It’s an important metabolite. It’s called one alpha 25-dihydroxyvitamin D 3. And it’s abbreviated (1,25(OH)2D3). The abbreviation doesn’t make it easier to say, and it’s a hormonal vitamin D metabolite.

Now, this metabolite plays a vital role in:

  • Being one of the main regulators of the human genome
  • Regulating gut physiology and homeostasis​
  • Ca2+ and phosphate absorption​
  • Epithelial integrity/barrier function​
  • Detoxification and protection against infection

We talked about that in the beginning. This vitamin D metabolite is one of the main regulators. Of the human genome. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. So you want to turn genes on and want to turn genes off. Vitamin D metabolite is extremely important. It’s also important in regulating gut physiology and homeostasis. Calcium and phosphate absorption, epithelial integrity or barrier function, AKA detoxification and protection against infection.

Vitamin D And The Gut (Shocking)

Vitamin D receptor levels are higher in intestinal epithelial cells than any other tissues and cell types. So the vitamin D receptor is where the vitamin D and actually the metabolites bind to on a cell. 

Vitamin D receptors are higher in the gut than anywhere else in your body. Gut epithelium and immune cells also express CYP27B1 and thus synthesize the very important hormonal metabolite of vitamin D.

Most people think cytochromes are only located in the liver. They’re not. We’ll actually have a cytochrome expressed on gut epithelium cells and immune cells. And what does vitamin D need to turn into the very important hormonal vitamin D metabolite? CYP27B1 is conveniently located as well in the gut. 

The body is amazing, isn’t it? This hormonal metabolite, the dihydroxy (1,25(OH)2D3) upregulates tight junction proteins. So this is very important hormonal vitamin D metabolite regulates intestinal permeability or what everyone else likes to call it leaky gut.

In ulcerative colitis patients, the serum 25 OHD, again, that’s the metabolite that’s actually measured in your blood test – they found that with UC patients, certain vitamin D concentration is inversely correlated with mucosal inflammation and disease activity. Basically the lower the vitamin D that was measured in the blood test, the more disease activity you have, not a good thing. 

Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to UC inflammation by disrupting the epithelial barrier function. Totally makes sense right? Because the sentence before says how the hormonal vitamin D metabolite controls tight junctions in your gut. So completely logical. Completely shocking. So to go one step further, the hormonal vitamin D metabolite regulates innate and adaptive immune response. 

Vitamin D And The Gut Microbiota

I’m totally going there because the research is going there, and this is recent research, like a year or less. It’s cool stuff. Damaged intestinal mucosa may allow for easy microbial translocation, thus triggering an immune system response.

Bbasically, if you have a leaky gut, your bacteria can go where it should not be going and your immune system is going to be triggered.

In mice, vitamin D deficiency at birth causes lower numbers of Bacteroides and Prevotella later in life.

Interestingly, probiotic treatment (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus plantarum) increases VDR protein and the expression of target genes in human and mouse intestinal epithelial cells. 

Introducing two strains of bacteria is influencing your body to produce more of the vitamin D receptor protein that’s on yourself, and that influences the up-regulation or down down-regulation of genes in your body. So you can see there is a dynamic interplay between bacteria and our body and our body being the vitamin D receptor expression in the gut. 

Absolutely amazing. It’s dynamic. We exist synergistically with bacteria. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized parallel-arm multicenter study. That’s, I know a lot of words, but it means it’s a good clinical trial. So in a good clinical trial, the oral probiotic L. reuteri  NCIMB 30242 increased circulating 25(OH)D levels relative to placebo.

Vitamin D And Autism

Two open-label trials (in Turkey and China) found high dose vitamin D improves the core symptoms of autism in about 75% of autistic children

Again, this is all recent information and this is why many parents ask me the question of, “Oh, should I be giving my child vitamin D?” It’s important to understand all the science behind it. So it’s a very logical question to ask because that is a great improvement in just giving vitamin D.

Does anyone remember the fantastic 2016 cell article titled “Microbial Reconstitution Reverses Maternal Diet-Induced Social and Synaptic Deficits in Offspring”?

In that article, they found that lactobacillus reuteri recovers social behavior in mice and RESTORED the number of oxytocin immunoreactive neurons in the mice’s brain. So, Whoa. Right? Lactobacillus reuteri was shown to increase the levels of vitamin D compared to placebo. 

And now here we have in an autistic mice model that lactobacillus reuteri recovers social behavior in mice and restored the number of oxytocin immunoreactive neurons in the brain. It’s amazing the interaction between probiotics and us and our overall gut health and how the gut interacts with the brain. It’s a whole-body system. Gut health is absolutely vital when healing autism, absolutely vital.

Special diets are that powerful. It’s the actual chemistry that the special diet influences and changes in your body, and that’s really where the power comes from. So giving your child a probiotic. Totally logical. 

There’s different science on different strains. It completely makes sense giving your child. Vitamin D certainly would make sense looking at those scientific research, but if you’re not taking into account overall gut health, you’re missing a big part of the picture of healing autism. Special diets are that powerful.