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September 19, 2017

The Generation R study conducted in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, is a study of fetal development. 9778 mothers were invited to be a part of this study. The objective of the study was to understand what environmental and genetic factors lead to normal and abnormal growth in a fetus.

One of the major findings of this study was how the deficiency of vitamin D in the mother led to the development of autistic traits in the child, post-birth.

Role of vitamin D in fetal development

During gestational period, vitamin D helps in fetal organ development, bone growth and ossification. Based on the Generation R study, it is now evident that a deficiency of the vitamin in the expectant mother has implications for the fetus.

Vitamin D and Autism

Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that regulates over a thousand different physiological processes. When there is enough of it in the body, the vitamin D receptors which are located in the brain, breast, bones, colon and pancreas start functioning at optimum capacity. The receptors are also present in the placenta, through which the fetus gets access to the vitamin.

Vitamin D regulates a gene that converts tryptophan to serotonin, a hormone that contributes to fetal brain development. When the mother’s vitamin D level is below 50 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L), she does not have enough of the vitamin to pass on to the fetus. This leads to the fetal brain cells not being activated. Therefore, this may result in a host of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

Another factor that could explain the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and autism is maternal autoimmunity. Deficiency of the vitamin prevents the mother’s body from producing much needed T regulatory cells. The absence of these cells makes the developing fetus vulnerable to attack from the mother’s immune system. This may result in abnormal fetal development, which could increase the likelihood of the child developing autistic traits.

Can supplements help?

It’s a known fact that autism is a result of multiple factors. Deficiency of vitamin D could just be one of them. Researchers are now trying to understand whether providing Vitamin D supplements to mothers will reduce the likelihood of the baby showing autistic traits or not.

The study of vitamin D and its relationship to autism is still in its infancy. Only time will unveil the truth of what goes on in the womb. 

Disclaimer: The vitamin health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. VitaminsOnly strongly recommends to consult health care professionals for any questions concerning your health.

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