An increasing amount of evidence points to the possibility that gestational and early childhood vitamin D deficiency [25(OH)D < 40 ng/ml] cause some cases of autism. Vitamin D is metabolized into a seco-steroid hormone that regulates about 3% of the 26,000 genes in the coding human genome. It is also a neurosteroid that is active in brain development, having effects on cellular proliferation, differentiation, calcium signaling, neurotrophic and neuroprotective actions; it also appears to have an effect on neurotransmission and synaptic plasticity. Children who are, or who are destined to become, autistic have lower 25(OH)D levels at 3 months of gestation, at birth and at age 8 compared to their unaffected siblings. Two open label trials found high dose vitamin D improves the core symptoms of autism in about 75% of autistic children. A few of the improvements were remarkable. The vitamin D doses used in these children were 300 IU/KG/day up to a maximum of 5000 IU/day (highest final 25(OH)D level reached was 45 ng/ml). The other study used 150,000 IU/month IM as well as 400 IU/day [highest final 25(OH)D level was 52 ng/ml]. These two open label trials were recently confirmed with a randomized controlled trial (RCT) using 300 IU/kg/day with a maximum of 5000 IU/day and resulted in effects similar to the two open label studies. In terms of prevention, a recent small study showed vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy (5000 IU/day) and during infancy and early childhood (1000 IU/day) significantly reduced the expected incidence of autism in mothers who already had one autistic child from 20% to 5%. Vitamin D is safe; for example, over the last 15 years, Poison Control reports there have been approximately 15,000 cases of vitamin D overdose. However only three of these 15,000 people developed clinical toxicity and no one died. Given those facts, practitioners might consider treating autism with 300 IU/kg/day, and seek to prevent autism by supplementing pregnant and lactating women (5000 IU/day) and infants and young children (150 IU/kg/day) checking 25(OH)D levels every 3 months. These doses will increase 25(OH)D blood levels to those recommended by the Endocrine Society. As the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplementation during infancy and childhood, pediatricians and family practitioners should evaluate the current evidence on autism and vitamin D and act accordingly.
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autism spectrum disorder
Childhood Autism Rating Scale
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Conflict of interest
JJC is president of the non-profit Vitamin D Council; he receives remuneration from Purity Products.
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This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.
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Cannell, J.J. Vitamin D and autism, what’s new?. Rev Endocr Metab Disord 18, 183–193 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11154-017-9409-0
- Prevention of autism
- Treatment of autism
- Vitamin D