Researchers have long hypothesized that serotonin and vitamin D play a role in autism, but have not been able to pinpoint the exact mechanism they play in triggering the developmental disorder.
Now, a group of researchers in California believe they’ve uncovered a vital clue.
In a new study published in The FASEB Journal, researchers from Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute wrote that vitamin D activates three brain hormones affecting social behavior – including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – and that supplementation “is a practical and affordable solution to help prevent autism.”
[Researchers] suggested that dietary intervention with vitamin D, tryptophan and omega 3 fatty acids could boost brain serotonin concentrations and held prevent and possibly ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with ASD without side effects.
Autism is a severe developmental disorder that is usually first diagnosed in early childhood. Most autistic children have issues in areas of communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Milder versions of autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, are referred to as being on the “spectrum.”
According to Professor Bruce Ames, who led the new study, and his team, vitamin D activates a gene sequence that produces an enzyme needed to convert tryptophan – an essential amino acid – into serotonin.
This proposed mechanism, noted Ames, explains four major characteristics associated with autism:
- the low concentrations of serotonin in the brain and its elevated concentrations in tissues outside the blood-brain barrier;
- the low concentrations of the vitamin D hormone precursor 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D3];
- the high male prevalence of autism (who are four times more likely than females to develop cases of autism);
- and the presence of maternal antibodies against fetal brain tissue.