In spite the name vitamin D gets actually converted to a steroid hormone in our body. It regulates over one thousand of different physiological processes. It controls approx. 5% (possibly even more) of the human genom, meaning that it turns the genes on and off when needed.
Optimal vitamin D levels are hugely important. People with adequate vitamin D status have lower all-cause mortality including Cardiovascular Disease, cancer, respiratory and generative diseases. Its deficiency is also linked to accelerated aging process.
Vitamin D and autism.
Vitamin D has also a very important role in brain development and its function. It has been linked to autism by many researchers but only recently dr. Rhonda Patrick published a hypothesis explaining the likely mechanism. While vitamin D status has been going down because of the many lifestyle factors like staying indoors more and using sunscreens, there has been an increase in incidence of autism at the same time.
Vitamin D and serotonin link.
Vitamin D has been shown to be responsible for activating an enzyme involved in the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid coming from our diet and serotonin is a neurotransmitter known mainly for boosting mood but it actually does much more in the brain and throughout the body. Serotonin is very important in foetal brain development, required to shape the structure and wiring (the function) of the brain. As the foetus depends fully on the maternal levels of vitamin D, its deficiency can have severe consequences during pregnancy. Induced vitamin D deficiency in pregnant mice has been linked to autistic behaviours in the offspring. Optimal levels throughout pregnancy can also prevent maternal autoimmunity, which has also been linked to autism. Autoimmunity is an activation of the immune system, which starts to attack the body’s own tissues or the tissues of the foetus. Vitamin D is thought to be involved in the protective mechanism (T regulatory cells production), which is design to quiet down immune system and prevent such attacks. It has been shown to have a protective role during pregnancy but also in autoimmunity in general.
Apart from its role during pregnancy serotonin supports our healthy brain function including our mood, impulse control, long term planning, elevating anxiety, depression, sensory impairment and boosting memory.
At the same time, vitamin D can help to lower excessive production of serotonin in the gut. We do produce serotonin in the gut but its role is different than in the brain and serotonin produced in the gut cannot actually get into the brain. Its excess in the gut is linked to inflammation and conditions like colitis. Optimising vitamin D levels has been shown to be very helpful.
Vitamin D supplementation.
It’s important for every female, who wants to get pregnant or is already pregnant to optimise her levels of vitamin D, which is linked not only to autism but also ADHD, schizophrenia and normal brain functioning in general.
Because of the many important functions of vitamin D and the fact that the test is easy and not expensive everyone can hugely benefit from testing and supplementing if necessary. It’s important to test before taking any supplements. As in many cases it’s about optimal levels (not too little and not too much). There is also possibly quite large amount of people, who cannot convert supplemental vitamin D to its physiologically active form in the body and require high dosages. This is why retesting is also important to check if the supplementation works and the levels are going up but also are not exceeding the recommended optimal range.
You can find more information in this short interview with dr. Rhonda Patrick.