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Scientific discussion regarding a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and autism arose out of studies examining the role of vitamin D in the development of rat brains. Discovery of the essential status of adequate vitamin D in normal rat brain development led to studies investigating vitamin D levels of women who gave birth to autistic children. The combination of research documenting the importance of vitamin D in human brain development and widespread deficiency in young women has led to a theory of deficiency as a direct cause of autism.

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Deficiency and Fetal Brain Development

Australian researchers reporting in the May 2003 issue of “Neuroscience” discovered that severe vitamin D deficiency in pregnant rats permanently damaged the brains of their babies. Supplementing vitamin D to the newborn rats failed to reduce the damage. Cautioning that vitamin D deficiency is common in young women, the authors called for monitoring vitamin D levels in pregnant women and newborns. The researchers speculate that optimizing these levels will reduce the occurrence of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism.

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Maternal Sun Exposure and Autism

To investigate the connection between vitamin D deficiency and fetal brain development disorders in children, researchers studied how much sun pregnant women were exposed to during pregnancy. Sun exposure is necessary for vitamin D synthesis and researchers hypothesized that learning disorders including autism rates would be higher in children who underwent gestation during winter months. Researchers reporting in the March 1984 and July 2004 issues of the “Journal of Learning Disabilities” discovered that such children were seven times more likely to have learning disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders.

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A Theory of Autism

In the October 2008 issue of the journal “Medical Hypotheses,” Dr. John Cannell examines the chain of evidences linking autism to vitamin D deficiency and hypothesizes that the two are solidly connected. Dr. Cannell points out that the recent increase in autism prevalence coincides with increased sun aversion behavior and the subsequent vitamin D deficiency epidemic. He asserts vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for autism in infants and calls for several types of studies to be carried out that would easily test his theory.

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Vitamin D Unequivocally Needed

Researchers reporting in the June 2006 issue of “CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets” are very clear in their assessment of the role of vitamin D in developing human brains. Their analysis documents that vitamin D receptors appear early and widely in brain tissue during gestation and vitamin D is necessary for normal nerve cell growth. After reviewing a compendium of research regarding the brain enhancing properties of vitamin D, the researchers concluded that vitamin D profoundly affects brain development and deficiency can manifest in numerous neuropsychological problems including autism.

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