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New insight into vitamin D and autism

Thinkstock Vitamin D capsules
Scientists have identified a new mechanism that may explain the connection between vitamin D and autism, and may be a key to the prevention of and treatment for the disorder.

Vitamin D may be the key ingredient our brains need to control the production of serotonin that may be a critical factor in determining the social behavior association with Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to new research.

Rhonda Patrick, PhD and Bruce Ames, PhD, of Childen's Hospital Oakland Research Institute conducted research with results that suggest vitamin D activates serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin, three brain hormones that affect social behavior. Previous research has linked low levels of serotonin and low levels of vitamin D to autism, but no mechanism explaining the link had been identified prior to this study. The discovery was noted on

The study suggested that vitamin D activates the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), that converts the essential amino acid tryptophan to serotonin in the brain, according to a release from Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland. They also discovered that vitamin D inhibits the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydoxylase 1 (TPH1), which halts the production of serotonin in the gut and other tissues. When there's too much trytophan there and in other tissues, it can cause inflammation.

The mechanism Patrick and Ames found may help further autism prevention and treatment research. The study suggests “dietary intervention with vitamin D, tryptophan and omega 3 fatty acids would boost brain serotonin concentrations and help prevent and possibly ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with ASD without side effects,” according to the release. “Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and offer a simple solution to raise vitamin D levels to an adequate status. In addition, vitamin D levels should be routinely measured in everyone and should become a standard procedure in prenatal care.”

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