Autism is a condition that we have all heard of, but very few people actually understand what it entails.
This is not surprising, especially since up until May 2013, autism was divided into several subtypes like “autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.”
What Is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are the general terms for a group of complex disorders that affect brain development. Typically, ASD is characterized in varying degrees, including difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors (2).
Current statistics show that 1 in 68 children, more specifically, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls, have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (3). Unfortunately, statistics further show that of these diagnosed children, less than half (43 percent) had ever received a comprehensive developmental evaluation by the time they reached the age of three.
Even though 87 percent of these kids showed developmental and social issues such as difficulty with eye contact and body language, as well as deviations from routines that typically trigger tantrums, all of which are key symptoms of ASD that were even recorded in these children’s medical and/or educational records before they were three, they were not officially diagnosed until later in childhood. Many parents simply hope that their autistic child will grow out of these behaviors and push autism out of their minds.
This is significant because research shows that ASD can be reliably diagnosed by the age of two. And the earlier a child is diagnosed, the more opportunities they will have for effective interventions that can ultimately result in the healthy development and improved function as well as better quality of life (4).
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Now, a more recent study shows that the number of children with ASD is actually much higher than previously estimated. This study suggests that 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17 are affected by the condition in the United Stated (5).
With all of our modern medical advancements, doctors still don’t know the exact cause of ASD. The prevailing theory is that it is caused by a number of factors including a genetic predisposition and environmental or other unknown factors (6).
The Environmental Connection
While the majority of conventional doctors claim there is no conclusive evidence linking triggers like pollution with an increased risk of ASD, others contend there is mounting evidence that environmental toxins are in fact key to the rising number of children with ASD.
One such toxin is glyphosate, a chemical found in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which is routinely used on the crops we grow to feed our children.
According to researchers, “glyphosate does induce disease and is a ‘textbook example of exogenous semiotic entropy.’ Glyphosate inhibits detoxification of xenobiotics and interferes with cytochrome P450 enzymes, which enhances the damaging effects of other chemical residues and toxins, and very slowly damages cellular systems in the body through inflammation. Residues of glyphosate are found in sugar, corn, soy, and wheat, some of the main components of the Western diet.” (7)
And this glyphosate toxicity is so prevalent, that researchers now say an unbelievable one in two children will be autistic by 2025 (8)!
Vitamin D And Autism
Currently, conventional medicine says there is no actual ‘cure’ for ASD. It is simply managed through education, supportive care, and behavioral strategies. But new research shows there is a surprising link between ASD and a common vitamin we all get from sunshine–Vitamin D.
A study published in April 2015, revealed that 57 percent of children with ASD have a vitamin D deficiency. Another 30 percent of these kids have vitamin D ‘insufficiency,’ which is also linked to the severity of their autism (9). Other studies further contend that if a mother is deficient in vitamin D while pregnant, the child is at risk for developing ASD (10).
What is exciting, however, is that a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, shows that symptoms of ASD “improved significantly” from just four months of vitamin D3 supplementation (11).
The study, which was conducted by researchers from Assiut University in Egypt, involved 109 children aged 3-10. And while it all seems too easy to be the answer for the countless children suffering from ASD, this study brings new hope for a viable treatment for the condition. It is the first double-blind, randomized clinical trial actually proving the efficacy of vitamin D3 in ASD patients. And since the positive effect was not seen in the placebo group, researchers are even more hopeful that something as simple as vitamin supplementation can provide not only a treatment but also a prevention for ASD.
In the past, scientists have been able to show that vitamin D can essentially prevent specific molecular inflammation linked to ASD. They were further able to show that low levels of vitamin D, like those found in the majority of the population, do not inhibit the rapid biochemical events, which “propagates and matures the inflammatory response” that can aggravate symptoms of ASD. But now they can also show that adequate levels of vitamin D can, in fact, inhibit this inflammatory signaling (12).
Because of this breakthrough, researchers can now recommend specific levels of vitamin D for children with ASD.
Getting Your Daily Dose
Researchers in the latest study used 300 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 per kg of a child’s body weight. The daily dose, however, never exceeded 5,000 IU per day.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has now also set an adequate intake (AI) for vitamin D, stating both adults and children should get a daily dose of 15 micrograms (600 IU) of vitamin D from food sources. The EFSA further states that children aged 11-17 years old should never exceed 100 micro-g per day (4,000 IU) of the vitamin. As well, children 10 and under should not exceed 50 micro-g/day (2,000 IU) (13).
These recommendations are set as the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels and are based on research that shows children can tolerate these relatively high rates of vitamin D3. At these levels, 8.3 percent of the children had minor side effects that included skin rashes, itching, and diarrhea, which were mild and brief according to the researchers.
While the implications of these studies are enormous for the millions of children that already suffer from ASD worldwide, the possibility of prevention is even more exciting. Researchers add that vitamin D is inexpensive, readily available, and safe. Still, authorities are somewhat cautious.
“It is important to remember that autism is a lifelong disability— children who are autistic will become autistic adults— and the most crucial thing is that every autistic person has the right support to meet their needs,” says Carol Povey, director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society in the UK. She adds “… parents and autistic people should not base any decisions on this research until further studies are carried out.” (14)
She does also say, however, that if the results of the study using vitamin D to treat ASD can be reproduced on a larger scale, with the right support, vitamin D therapy could help improve the lives of the 140,000 children on the autism spectrum in the UK alone.