Nutritional Problems May Lead to Higher Risk of Autism

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Autism is a set of child developmental delays and disabilities. It includes impaired social interaction and communications, delayed and impaired verbal and language skills, and focus on repetitive activities. Autism is just one of several related disorders in the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) classification. Asperger’s Syndrome is the second most common ASD illness after autism and generally differs from autism because language development is not affected as severely.

The incidence of autism has been rapidly increasing in many places. Although there appears to be no single cause for this, nutritional modifications both for pregnant women and children have been found to exert significant improvements on outcomes both in terms of lowering rates of autism and helping children overcome some of the developmental and behavioral problems it causes.

Epidemic of Autism

The incidence of autism in California has skyrocketed seven-fold between 1990 and 2001. In 1990, there were 6.2 cases of autism diagnosed by age five for each 10,000 births. In 2001, it was 42.5 cases. Similar rapidly increasing rates of autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger Syndrome and some other disorders, have been noted across much of the Western developed world.

For some time, there has been a suspicion that the rise in ASD cases has been due to improved diagnostic results and increased public awareness. However, a recent study has shown that this alone is not likely to account for the alarming increase in cases of autism.

(excerpted from New Study: Autism Linked to Environment)

“It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiology professor at University of California, Davis who led the study.”

Many Theories for Rapid Increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Some of the many theories of the rapid increase in the number of diagnosed cases of autism include:

  • Improved identification at younger ages
  • Increased public awareness of autism
  • Mercury poisoning
  • Vaccines containing mercury-based preservatives such as thimerosal
  • Pyrethoid insecticides used in pet flea shampoos
  • Phthalates, used in soft plastics and cosmetics
  • Rubella virus or similar infectious agent
  • Inadequate vitamin D levels in mothers and children
  • Dark-skinned people moving to non-tropical homes (lowers vitamin D)
  • Insufficient glutathione levels
  • Acetaminophen (paracetamol) poisoning
  • Genetic defect in G proteins combined with pertussis toxin in DPT vaccine
  • Prenatal ultrasounds

Many of the theories for the cause of autism have been studied, but it appears no one theory accounts for the increasing rate of autism. It is likely there are several factors at work.

Some of Best Evidence Points to Vitamin D Deficiency

Based upon research showing that low blood levels of vitamin D are correlating with a variety of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, impaired cognitive function in the elderly, cardiovascular diseases, and susceptibility to influenza infections, there are many plausible reasons to improve vitamin D nutritional intake apart from autism. It also seems likely that if research is showing vitamin D inadequacy can result in neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis and impaired cognitive function that it is plausible it could also be involved in other neurological impairments such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

Much of the research advocating that vitamin D deficiencies are a major factor in development of autism comes from epidemiological studies that find low vitamin D levels in children with autism and their mothers. Other studies find that autism rates are higher in northern latitudes and rainy climates, the same areas where vitamin D deficiencies are more common.

Dark-Skinned People (Africans, Indians) Living in High Latitutes At High Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency

There are some studies showing a correlation between dark-skinned people in high latitudes (such as Somalis moving to Minnesota and Sweden) developing autism at vastly increased rates. The connection is not proven yet, but other factors do not seem to explain this link.

Dark-skinned people from India, Africa, and other locations in which high sunlight is common have increased melanin levels in the skin that help avoid damage from intense sunlight exposure. However, these same high levels of melanin impede vitamin D production caused by sunlight exposure. For these people, supplementation is especially important when they move to a country like the US or Canada which have much lower sunlight intensity levels. It may be the only realistic way to attain adequate vitamin D blood levels for such people. Such thinking may also apply to other Asian and Hispanic immigrants in latitudes far from the equator.

While vitamin D testing is recommended for all people given the epidemic proportions of vitamin D deficiencies world-wide, some groups are at particularly high risk. Dark-skinned mothers from places like Tamil Nadu (India) and portions of Africa who are living far from the equator should get their vitamin D levels tested before and during pregnancy and supplement to ensure that they have adequate vitamin D during pregnancies.

This advice is also highly applicable to all women, regardless of their skin type or origin, who are trying to get pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are nursing infants. Given how inexpensive vitamin D tests are and how widespread and detrimental it appears vitamin D deficiencies can be in such women, doctors should be routinely testing for vitamin D levels and suggesting supplements to raise the levels to the appropriate ranges.

If you can’t get your doctor to test you for vitamin D levels, you can privately purchase vitamin D tests for about $45 to $65 via Life Extension Vitamin D, 25-Hydroxy Blood Test, PrePaidLab.com Vitamin D test, or via these links:


Order Today


Life Extension Blood Testing

If you’re willing to spend some time filling out a six page long health survey (click here for a sample) and retest and update your health information every 6 months, then you can get a home vitamin D testing kit for $40.00 twice per year. Visit the GrassrootsHealth web page D*Action Participant Questionnaire for more information or to fill out a survey and purchase your test kit. GrassrootsHealth is affiliated with University of California at San Diego and many doctors in San Diego County, California.

The benefits of increased vitamin D levels for other reasons appear significant, even for men and older children and women who do not plan to become pregnant. Based upon current understandings, it seems vitamin D toxicity is relatively rate and that it is generally safe for children to be consuming at least 1000 IU of vitamin D3 per day and adults at least 2000 IU per day. It would still be good to get a periodic vitamin D blood test to verify that the levels in the blood are in the appropriate range.

Vitamin D powdered capsules are available with up to 5000 IU of powder that readily mixes into juices and other drinks. This is probably the best way to supplement with vitamin D for kids. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so it mixes best with drinks and soft foods with some fat content such as milk, soy milk, smoothies, milkshakes, and ice cream. If you shake or stir in juice and other drinks that have little to no fat content, it is likely your children will still get a considerable amount of the added vitamin D. However, you’ll probably find some of it left as residue on the bottom of cups and containers.

Recommendations for Pregnant and Nursing Women

The Vitamin D Council is pushing hard for pregnant women to take vitamin D supplements as you can see in this video:

Vitamin D powder can be mixed into baby food and drinks as soon as they can start eating them. You may want to ask your child’s pediatrician about adding vitamin D powder to baby formula and breast-milk that is pumped and fed to babies in bottles.

Vitamin D Risks

Vitamin D isn’t totally risk-free. It is possible to take very large dosages over long periods of time and develop vitamin D toxicity, but this is rare.

Also, there is at least one group of people who may be harmed by vitamin D. People who have L-form bacterial infections (also known as cell wall deficient bacterial infections) may need to reduce their vitamin D intake while taking multiple types of antibiotics over period of several months to years to kill off the bacteria. These infections are unusual as the bacteria have lost their cell walls and actually live and reproduce inside human cells, particularly immune system cells. Please read our article Vitamin D Supplementation: Helpful or Hazardous? for more information.


Where to Buy Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements are widely available in supermarkets, drug stores, and discount chains such as Walmart. The D3 form (cholecalciferol) is about 2 to 3 times as potent as the D2 form (ergocalciferol).

From a reliable low-cost Internet health supplement vendor such as Puritan’s Pride, the cost of vitamin D supplements is likely to be around $1 per month per person if you buy supplements on sale or around $2 per month if you miss sales.

Some good sources for varying dosages of vitamin D3 with good prices include:

Puritan’s Pride Vitamin D (D-3) 5000 I.U.-5000 iu-100-Softgels

Affordable Supplements: Country Life Vitamin D3, 2500 IU, 200 softgels

Life Extension Vitamin D3, 1000 IU, 250 capsules

Reducing Mercury Contamination Risks

Mercury contamination has been increasingly widespread in US food supplies since the widespread usage of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) began in the 1970s. This mercury poisoning of the food supply combined with low levels of glutathione due to drug-induced glutathione inadequacies from as repeated usage of acetaminophen (paracetamol) and from heavy metal poisoning by mercury, lead, cadmium, etc. could be a relatively new phenomenon that corresponds with the rapid increase in ASD rates.

Caution is warranted regarding the consumption of foods containing HFCS and avoiding or reducing the usage of acetaminophen (paracetamol) containing products such as Tylenol and many cough and cold syrups. Please see our article Health Risks from Tylenol, Acetaminophen, and Paracetamol for more information how such painkillers lower glutathione levels and what can be done to reduce such problems.

For healthy adults, supplementing on a daily basis with 600mg to 1200mg of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) helps build up glutathione levels. It’s not so easy to supplement kids with NAC because it smells like rotten eggs and doesn’t taste good. If you’re pregnant or nursing, consult with your doctor before taking NAC supplements to be on the safe side.

There are some that argue against NAC supplementation for autistic children, especially if they have not been tested for mercury toxin levels to verify they are low. The argument is that NAC can bind to the mercury and carry it around in the body. There is also a concern that NAC can be food for yeast and lead to further gastrointestinal problems in some autistic children.

A good alternative for pretty much everybody including most autistic children is consumption of 500mg or more vitamin C per day. Some studies show this can boost glutathione levels by 50% in individuals with low glutathione.

Supplementing with 500mg per day of glutamine, an inexpensive amino acid, helps because it is a precursor for glutathione. It also provides good nutrition for the mucous membrane cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Adults can take significantly higher quantities of glutamine. Two good sources are:

Affordable Supplements: 1FAST400 1000 grams of L-glutamine powder

Puritan’s Pride L-Glutamine Powder 10.6 oz. (300 grams)

Supplemental L-taurine is also helpful for detoxification by assisting liver function. For kids, a suggested dosage is 500mg per day. Adults can take more, and for them taurine may also be helpful for lowering blood pressures. A good source for bulk taurine powder is Affordable Supplements: 1FAST400 1000 grams of L-taurine.

Both L-glutamine and L-taurine are mild and neutral tasting and dissolve fairly well in most liquids. Mixing them into foods and drinks should be easy, and will result in little change to taste in most cases.

Reducing intake of predatory fish is also a good idea as many of them have high levels of mercury. For adults, getting necessary omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) is best done by consuming fish oil supplements. Teenagers should be able to do this, too. But it may be a challenge for children.

Fish Oil and Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Pregnant and nursing women should also consume large amounts of DHA, an omega-3 essential fatty acid, commonly found in fish oil supplements. DHA is a major component in the brain and nervous system of a growing baby. The use of fish oil as an alternative medicine treatment for autism is discussed on the web page Essential Fatty Acids and Children with Autism.

Please see our previous article Life Extension Overstock Products: Mega EPA/DHA Fish Oil and Niacin for a discussion and comparison of a variety of fish oil products sold via Life Extension and Costco.

Small children and babies may need products designed for them as common fish oil capsules are often difficult for them to swallow. One good option is to cut open a common fish oil capsule with a clean knife and then squeeze the fish oil into a food and mix it in well. You may need to experiment with foods and concentrations to find a palatable combination for your child.

Also, if you have a baby or small child whom you want to feed DHA or fish oil supplements, you may want to take a look at the discussion thread Autism / Autism Spectrum Support Group: DHA Supplements. It has a number of suggestions, and you could post more questions and possibly get some answers there.

Related Videos

Julie Matthews on Diet and Nutrition for Autism

Further Reading

Meaning and Interpretation of Medical Tests

Vitamin D Supplementation: Helpful or Hazardous?

Detecting Autism in Infancy, Starting Treatment Early

Health Risks from Tylenol, Acetaminophen, and Paracetamol

Multiple Sclerosis Risk Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dangerous for Many Reasons

What If Vitamin D Deficiency Is a Cause of Autism?

New Study: Autism Linked to Environment

Could Autism Be Caused by Lack of Vitamin D?

Autism and Vitamin D

PubMed: Autism and vitamin D. (Dr. John Cannell)

Researcher sees link between vitamin D, autism

Autism and Vaccinations

Is Vitamin D an Autism Treatment?

Autism (Life Extension Foundation report)

PubMed: Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentration and Cognitive Impairment. (Llewellyn DJ, Langa K, Lang I.)

Autism Research Institute: Mercury Detoxification

Treatment Options for Mercury/Metal Toxicity in Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities: Consensus Position Paper

Essential Fatty Acids and Children with Autism

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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