Harnessing Vitamin D in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Two weeks ago, researchers from Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute discovered an important link between vitamin D and serotonin, of which low levels of both chemicals have been related to autism and abnormal social behaviors.

Previous research has shown that low levels of brain hormones, specifically oxytocin, vasopressin, and serotonin, along with vitamin D are linked to typical autism symptoms (I have previously posted on oxytocin, see link: http://blogs.dickinson.edu/writingsciencenewssp14/?p=264). None of these chemicals have been linked before, until Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Bruce Ames showed that vitamin D is essential in the making an enzyme that produces serotonin.

Vitamin D is mainly produced in the skin when exposed to UVB radiation.

Using common molecular techniques, the researchers found that vitamin D specifically activates a gene, which produces an enzyme called tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2). This enzyme is responsible for converting tryptophan, an amino acid, to serotonin in the brain, for neurotransmission purposes. Therefore, if vitamin D levels are low, serotonin levels will be low as well, which could result in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Important to note is that the daily recommended vitamin D levels are not met but a majority of people. Vitamin D is mainly made from the skin when exposed to UVB radiation, but can be obtained through various dietary supplements as well. Supplements such as vitamin D, tryptophan itself, as well as omega-3-fatty acids could boost serotonin levels. Although it is unsure whether dietary modifications will prevent autism altogether, they may be a way to reduce autistic behaviors and some of the symptoms.

To read the article: http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2014/02/14/fj.13-246546

R. P. Patrick, B. N. Ames. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism. The FASEB Journal, 2014; DOI: 10.1096/fj.13-246546


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