Written by Amen Clinics | Daniel G. Amen M.D.
Scientists just shed some light on the mystery of autism, a neurobiological disorder characterized (in varying degrees) by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, motor coordination and attention, along with physical issues such as sleep disturbance and gastrointestinal distress.
For some time, Autism Spectrum Disorders have been correlated with low levels of serotonin in the brain along with low levels of vitamin D. Until now, no direct relationship between the two had ever been established.
This new study shows that vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, activates a genetic sequence that converts the essential amino acid tryptophan into serotonin in the brain. The researchers also saw evidence that vitamin D inhibits a separate genetic sequence that halts the production of serotonin in the brain and gut.
These findings confirm the importance of adequate vitamin D for serotonin production in the brain, where it acts as a neurotransmitter, affecting brain development, mood stabilization, cognitive flexibility, social behavior, and sleep patterns.
Vitamin D deficiency has increased dramatically over the last couple of decades and is widespread among the U.S. population, with an estimated 70% of the population no longer meeting requirements. Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have inadequate levels, with deficiencies found among all age groups and ethnicities.
This study reiterates the importance of regularly measuring vitamin D and maintaining adequate levels in pregnant women and people of all ages, which is easy and affordable through dietary supplementation. We also suggest adequate consumption of the essential amino acid tryptophan, which gets converted into serotonin, and then melatonin (the sleep hormone) within the brain. Tryptophan can be purchased as a dietary supplement, but it can also be found in foods such as turkey, chicken, eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and cheese.
Learn more about what Amen Clinics and services for autism here.
This post was originally published by Amen Clinics, March 6, 2014
See Dr. Amen at the Autism Education Summit, September 30 - October 2, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Learn more