“Maybe you’ve been spending too much time in the sun.”

We’ve all heard it before.  Usually, it’s a “polite” way relatives like to tease you about your brain not working.  In reality, spending more time in the sun might be one of the best ways to prevent mental illness.

I’ve written before about the health improving effects of vitamin D for both mothers and children.  Now you’re going to learn how vitamin D helps prevent one of the most common and horrible childhood impairments: autism.

Vitamin D versus Autism

There is a strong correlation between low vitamin D levels and autism.  Kids with paler skin usually have lower levels of vitamin D.  These kids are also likely to get autism.  This doesn’t make sense at first.  People with lighter skin generally have an easier time creating vitamin D.  One possible explanation is well intentioned parents are telling their pale skinned children to avoid the sun for fear of getting burned.  As you’re about to see, this noble action could be increasing their child’s risk of autism.

A study in 2009 found women who live farther from the equator have a greater risk of having autistic children.  People who live farther from the equator generally receive less sunlight, and less vitamin D.  Low vitamin D levels impair brain development and weaken then immune system of the mother.  If the mother’s immune system is weak, pathogens could damage the development of the child’s brain.

Another study found the children of mothers who are vitamin D deficient are more likely to be autistic.  This study was particularly interesting because it was performed on Somali women, in an area where vitamin D deficiency is not usually a problem.  This suggests that even people getting adequate sunlight may be vitamin D deficient.

Mothers with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have children with schizophrenia and autism.

Children with autism have lower levels of vitamin D.

There is a strong link between low vitamin D levels and autism.  As summarized by this study,

“Much evidence indicates prenatal and early postnatal vitamin-D deficiency increases autism risk, probably through multiple effects, including impaired brain development and increased de novo mutations.”

Research suggests adequate vitamin D intake during pregnancy is needed to prevent mental illness.  Supplementation is almost always necessary to ensure the mother’s breast milk has enough vitamin D for the baby.

Autism isn’t the only mental condition where vitamin D plays a role.  One study found 55 percent of people with Parkinson’s are vitamin D deficient.  Only 36 percent of their “healthy” counterparts were deficient in vitamin D (It’s hard to call them healthy if they’re vitamin D deficient, but nonetheless…)

Low levels of vitamin D can also cause MS.  A study in 1997 found, “…strong support for the importance of vitamin D3 in reducing the risk and susceptibility for multiple sclerosis.”

Supplementing with vitamin D before your child is born is critical.  It will help prevent mutations which could cause disease later in life.  Making sure your baby has adequate vitamin D levels after birth is also crucial for preventing the development of autism or other mental illnesses.

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

The vitamin D council recommends mothers consume at least 6000 IU per day from all sources (sun, diet, supplements) during pregnancy.  After accounting for diet and sun exposure, this usually means at least 1000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight from supplements.

Vitamin D supplementation is covered extensively in the Better Baby Book.  After years of working with anti-aging specialists, pediatricians, and our friends from the Vitamin D council, we’ve found that adequate vitamin D is one of the best ways you can prevent autism.

Do you think vitamin D supplementation is necessary during pregnancy?