Vitamin D and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Vitamin D and Autism

Vitamin D has become popular in the last few years due to its role in cancer prevention. More recently, doctors in Sweden have pointed to a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and autism. The idea that vitamin D deficiency may have a link to autism isn’t that big of a stretch considering that vitamin D deficiency is emerging in scientific literature as a possible culprit in a wide range of diseases.

In fact, Dr. John Cannell, an American doctor and Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, connects vitamin D deficiency not only to autism, but depression, mental illness and a variety of other problems that plague our modern society.

Vitamin D and Autism

A unique aspect of vitamin D is that it is a nutrient that can be synthesized by the human body from our skin through the action of sunlight. Dr. Cannell contends that autism rates have skyrocketed since the late 1980s when in the interest of public health, medical experts advised us to avoid continued exposure to bright sunshine. It was then that sun avoidance and/or application of sunscreen was promoted to prevent skin cancer. However, that advice may have had the unintended consequence of making a large segment of the population vitamin D deficient.

Why We Need Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the gut absorb calcium, which most people know is needed by bones and teeth need to grow and stay strong. But Vitamin D also has a role in various biological processes within the nervous, muscular and immune systems. Since sensory processing disorders, low muscle tone, brain inflammation and other immunity problems are common in many children with autism, it is worth investing research dollars into understanding  vitamin D’s role and its association to neurobehavioral disorders.

There are three main areas of human growth and development where vitamin D could have a direct impact on the development of Autism Spectrum Disorders: (1) the brain (2) immune system and (3) gene expression.

The Brain
Vitamin D receptors are present in the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. Studies show that vitamin D protects nerves against toxic damage and has a positive effect on neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. This relationship may play a role in brain development, sensory processing and mood regulation.

The Immune System
The healthy human body is equipped with a powerful set of tools for resisting the onslaught of invading microorganisms (such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites). Unfortunately, this set of biological tools, known as the immune system, sometimes goes awry and attacks the body instead of its invaders. This misdirected immune response is referred to as autoimmunity. Studies suggest that immune abnormalities, mainly autoimmunity to brain tissue, may also have a role in the development of autism in a subgroup of patients.

Vitamin D deficiency has also been implicated as an environmental factor that may trigger immune-related conditions, including allergies, food sensitivities and autoimmunity.  This may explain why many children with neurobehavorial disorders have various food sensitivities (i.e. reactions to gluten and casein).

Vitamin D has been shown to strengthen the body’s innate immune system by inducing a production of proteins with natural antibiotic actions that can combat bacterial and viral infections and thereby reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Gene Expression
Another biological action of vitamin D involves regulating the expression of more than 200 genes as a child grows in the womb. Studies have found adverse effects on fetal brain development during the third trimester of pregnancy related to vitamin D deficiency, including increased risk of schizophrenia and language difficulties. Proper levels of Vitamin D might reduce the risk of autism by diminishing the occurrence of random mutations of DNA thus keeping these mutations from influencing the development of the fetus.

Low maternal vitamin D level is a risk factor for premature delivery and statistics show that the risk of autism increases with each week a baby is born early. One paper suggests that Vitamin D deficiency–either during pregnancy or early childhood– may allow the genetic tendency for autism to express itself.

Several recent studies show that vitamin D deficiency is common among children with autism. However, the “vitamin D theory” of autism does not diminish other genetic and environmental contributions to autism occurrence. While current findings do not prove that taking vitamin D reduces the risk of autism, the theory is strong enough that further research is warranted to determine if symptoms may be reduced by treating a deficiency.


Read the next post in this series “Maintaining Vitamin D Levels in Autism“.


If you have enjoyed this article, please share it on your social media networks and forums. Parents of special needs kids are always looking for valuable info. Thanks!


This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.


Vitamin D Supplements

I love these because they are free of: Yeast, Wheat, Milk, Egg, Soy, Salt, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Shellfish, Gluten, Artificial Colors and Flavors, Salicylates and Preservatives and they are GMO Free!


Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, your cost will be the same but SharingMom may receive a small commission. This helps to cover the maintenance of this site and keeps your subscription free. Thank you for your support!



Doctors eye vitamin D link to autism

Researcher sees link between vitamin D, autism

Vitamin D and Autism

Vitamin D and Autism

Etiopathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders: fitting the pieces of the puzzle together

Kočovská E, Fernell E, Billstedt E, Minnis H, Gillberg C. Vitamin D and autism: clinical review. Res Dev Disabil. 2012 Sep-Oct;33(5):1541-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2012.02.015. Epub 2012 Apr 21. PubMed PMID: 22522213.

Holick, M. F. “Vitamin D: A Millenium Perspective,” Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 2003; 88: 296-307.

Vitamin D

Eyles DW, Burne TH, McGrath JJ: Vitamin D, effects on brain development, adult brain function and the links between low levels of vitamin D and neuropsychiatric disease. Front Neuroendocrinol 2012

Mechanisms of Neuroprotective Action of Vitamin D3

Vitamin D and Inflammation

Clues to Immune System’s Role in Autism

Reduced serum concentrations of 25-hydroxy vitamin D in children with autism: Relation to Autoimmunity

Croen LA, Grether JK, Yoshida CK, Odouli R, Van de Water J: Maternal autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies, and childhood autism spectrum disorders: a case–control study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2005, 159:151-157.

Cohly HH, Panja A: Immunological findings in autism. Int Rev Neurobiol 2005, 1:317-341.

Grant WB, Soles CM: Epidemiologic evidence supporting the role of maternal vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for the development of infantile autism. Dermatoendocrinol 2009, 1:223-228.


How to go Casein-free


If you are considering implementing a casein-free diet for your child, be prepared. Some parents are made to feel that removing cow milk from a child’s food choices is a form of child abuse. Naysayers are unaware that a large percentage of the world’s population does not consume animal milk once childhood has passed. In fact, humans are the only species that drink milk as adults, and the only “animal” to drink the milk of another animal. Cow milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, but it was not meant to sustain humans.

If you are wondering whether a casein-free diet will benefit your child, consider this: children who crave dairy, and who eat a lot of it, are most likely to benefit from going casein-free.

Casein is the most abundant protein in milk. It is also found in dairy products and other foods containing dairy or lactose (including milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream). Because this milk protein is commonly used in processed foods, even foods proclaiming to be “dairy-free” or “lactose-free” will contain casein.

So why is casein a problem? The most studied theory proposes that children with autism, or other neurobehavioral disorders, process certain proteins (in this case the milk protein casein) differently than typical people do. Incomplete digestion and this difference in processing leads to high levels of protein by-products, called casomorphines, which exacerbate undesirable symptoms commonly associated with these disorders.

Similar to how the brain reacts to gluten in these individuals, it is believed that the brain reads these proteins as if they were opioid-like chemicals, like heroin or morphine. These by-products may then affect behavior like a drug would. They can affect speech, reduce the desire for social interaction, increase confusion, delay cognitive and auditory processing, and decrease the ability to feel pain.

This opioid reaction can also become addictive.  For some, the craving for dairy foods can be so intense that eating a yogurt or ice cream produces a feeling analogous to “getting high”. Removing casein usually produces benefits within a month, and sometimes within a week. In some children there is a worsening of symptoms for a few days (similar to a drug withdrawal) followed by improvement. In fact, one mom said that her child adapted to going gluten-free without skipping a beat but upon removing dairy, he started “raiding the fridge for yogurt and cheese” and became aggressive during his withdrawal period. This subsided as the days passed so don’t be surprised if you have a similar experience.

The idea behind removing casein from the diet is to heal inflammation in the gut caused by casein, reduce the level of casomorphines in the system and remove the opioid messaging to the brain which will lead to a reduction in symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviors and speech.

Before embarking on a casein-free diet, consult your child’s doctor. Because dairy products are one of the main sources of calcium in children, you’ll need to make sure the child’s diet has other good sources of calcium and vitamin D.  Talk with your child’s doctor about fortified foods (ie. calcium-enriched rice milk or coconut yogurt) and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies. Because it is best to get vitamins and nutrients from natural whole foods, I recommend you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist who can educate you about the casein-free diet and help tailor a menu to your child’s health needs and taste preferences.

If you choose a casein-free diet you must become aware of the ingredients of everything in your grocery cart. Read labels carefully, because milk or milk products can be present in surprising places, like non-dairy creamers, soy cheeses and soy yogurt and even sausages. Caseinates, such as calcium caseinate, potassium caseinate and sodium caseinate are derived from casein. If you really want to see if a casein-free diet is going to help your child, avoid purchasing any food whose label lists either casein or caseinates, even if it is not a “dairy” food.

In to avoid casein in your cooking, use olive or grapeseed oils instead of butter, or simply omit the cheese in certain dishes (ie. garnish tacos with avocado instead of cheese).

Source of Casein include (but are not limited to):

Animal Milk (all forms: cow, sheep, goat, etc)


Butter flavor




Cheese powder

Non-dairy cheese (check the label for caseinate)




Half & Half

Ice Creams

Milk fat

Milk hydrolysate

Sour cream


Whipped cream



How I Jump Started the Casein-free Process:

When we removed animal milk from our diet, I bought 1 carton each of Rice milk (Costco has the best one, it tastes very much like skim milk and not very much like rice), Almond milk (get the Original, Unsweetened version) and Coconut milk (Unsweetened, Unflavored). I made a taste testing game of it. I blind folded my boys and had them taste each kind and tell me which one they liked the best. Then I used that one for cereal and for drinking. Not one to waste, I used the milks they didn’t like in protein shakes or to make hot cereal (cream of buckwheat or oatmeal). Please remember to purchase unsweetened and unflavored products. There is no point in loading your child up with sugar and artificial flavors as those are implicated in behavioral disorders as well.


When it’s time to transition out of dairy yogurt, I would recommend doing the same thing. Keep in mind that if you choose a soy product, make sure it is made with NON-GMO soy beans. It will say on the label. A lot of children are sensitive to soy, so we try to avoid it in our house.

For ice cream – there are non-dairy ice creams available in pints. You could taste test those as well and use the ones you don’t like in smoothies, etc. However, the non-dairy ice creams are pricey. I make my own popsicles (see Popeye Pushups) or I buy sorbet which is usually non-dairy. We live near a Trader Joes and their sorbets are delicious!


It’s important to note that while I stick with their preferences for drinking and for use with cereal, I do purchase a variety of different milks and keep them on hand for different culinary purposes. This gives their bodies the best of all worlds in that we aren’t too heavy on one kind of product over another (almond milk vs. rice milk, etc).


If you have gone casein-free, please share any tips or ideas on how you implemented the dietary changes in your home. We have many parents who could use your input and support as they attempt to remove casein from their children’s diet. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section in order to benefit our readers.




This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.  



β-Casomorphin Induces Fos-Like Immunoreactivity in Discrete Brain Regions Relevant to Schizophrenia and Autism


Stanislaw Kaminski, Anna Cielinska, Elzbieta Kostyra (2007). “Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on health”. Journal of Applied Genetics 48 (3): 189–198. doi:10.1007/BF03195213. PMID 17666771.


Kurek M, Przybilla B, Hermann K, Ring J (1992). “A naturally occurring opioid peptide from cow’s milk, beta-casomorphine-7, is a direct histamine releaser in man”. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 97 (2): 115–120. doi:10.1159/000063326 . PMID 1374738.


Review of the potential health impact of β-casomorphins and related peptides  European Food Safety Agency , Scientific Report (2009) 231, 1-107


beta-Casomorphin-immunoreactivity in the brain stem of the human infant.


Effect of casein and beta-casomorphins on gastrointestinal motility in rats.


Could Aloe Vera Help in Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Aloe Vera

The medicinal potential of aloe vera is astounding! Yet most people only know that aloe vera gel can be used topically for sunburns. In reality, aloe vera has been used therapeutically for over 5000 years as both an external and internal remedy.

Aloe vera is most commonly known as a skin protectant. In fact, it is widely used in cosmetic and beauty products. But the benefits of ingesting pure, food-grade aloe vera gel are far more impressive.

Aloe vera has been shown to aid in a variety of ailments. But for our purposes, healing the gut so we can boost brain power, I will focus on its medicinal properties and how it can improve digestion and strengthen the immune system.

Aloe Vera

Although aloe is about 99% water, the remaining 1% is extremely powerful with close to 100 minerals, vitamins, enzymes and nutrients that synergistically work extremely well together.

Aloe vera nourishes the body with many vitamins including A, C, E, folic acid, choline, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6. It is also one of the few plants that contain vitamin B12. Because aloe enhances blood quality allowing for more effective transport of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, it increases the efficacy of vitamin C, vitamin E and other antioxidants.

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are necessary for the human body to function properly. There are about 22 amino acids and it is said that 8 of these are essential (meaning that we must ingest them because our body doesn’t make them). It is estimated that aloe vera naturally has from 18-20 of the amino acids we need, including all 8 of the essential ones.

Some of the 20 minerals found in aloe vera include: calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, sodium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese. These all play a role in digestive, immune and brain health.

Poor digestion is related to many diseases and studies are showing this is also the case in Autism Spectrum Disorders. A properly functioning digestive tract is one of the keys and foundations of health. Aloe is known to soothe and cleanse the digestive tract which in turn improves digestion. Drinking aloe helps with both constipation and diarrhea, helping to regulate the elimination cycles in whatever way the body needs.

Aloe vera is a gelatinous plant food, just like seaweed and chia seeds. The main benefit to consuming gelatinous plant foods is that these gels move through the intestinal tract absorbing toxins along the way and eliminating them through the colon. Consuming these gelatinous foods is a great way to detoxify the body.

Aloe also decreases the amount of unfriendly bacteria in the gut, keeping the healthy intestinal flora in balance. Aloe vera contains substances that prevent the growth of disease-causing microorganisms (such as the yeast candida) and provides antimicrobial activity to prevent and treat bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

Aloe also seems to be excellent at regulating the immune system. This means it can stimulate the immune response for those with weakened immune systems, either from existing conditions or post-illness fatigue. But aloe can also calm the immune response, which would help people with seasonal allergies or food sensitivities, where less immune reaction is beneficial.

Aloe can also be used to reduce inflammation throughout the body. People who drink aloe vera for two weeks typically begin to experience a significant reduction of inflammation symptoms. In part, this is due to the fact that aloe alkalizes the body, helping to balance the overly acidic dietary habits of our standard American diet which contributes to internal inflammation.

Of course, drinking aloe vera isn’t a magic cure that will reverse problems after one glass. Most people who ingest aloe on a regular basis report positive results in 3 – 30 days, depending on their condition. In 1997, research done by the University of San Antonio found that ingesting aloe daily showed a remarkable reduction in leukemia, heart disease and kidney disease.

However, while this plant is incredibly medicinal, there are some cautions against long-term use. Just because a little is beneficial, doesn’t mean that a lot is better. This is an incredibly powerful plant and should be used with a level of respect for its potency.

If your child is experiencing digestive problems, consider using it for a short period of time (say 1-2 weeks) and then stop and wait at least a month before using aloe again. For use as preventative medicine, consider using aloe gel periodically by adding it into your menu rotation, along with a variety of nutrient dense foods and drink.

Buying Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe vera juice is popping up everywhere. Before purchasing the one your market sells, read the label. Make sure you are buying as close to pure 100% aloe vera juice as possible. Many brands are flavored or loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners and contain almost no aloe vera juice whatsoever. Many are mixed with food thickeners to make them look like a gel, but may have been heated, destroying a significant portion of its healing effects. I’m currently using an aloe vera gel that I purchased at Trader Joes that is 99% aloe juice with added preservatives (preservatives are not desirable but I’m choosing my battles here).

Of course, fresh aloe vera gel is always best. Aloe plants can grow pretty much anywhere, outdoors or indoors. So you don’t need to buy the juice, just make it yourself. This guy will show you how: Learn How to Make Fresh Aloe Vera Juice.

It’s worth noting that there is a company in Arizona called Good Cause Wellness that sells a line of low-temperature dried aloe vera & berry products that you can use as ingredients in any smoothie. The product is a high-grade, pesticide-free, highly concentrated aloe vera gel powder available in two mixtures: Aloe Vera + Raspberry Powder and Aloe Vera + Blueberry Powder. This makes aloe vera gel easily available online.

One last note about Aloe Vera juice: it does have a strong pungent taste. To make sure your child will ingest it, mix it in a smoothie or add it to a green juice. If you get creative with the juice or find other ways to incorporate aloe vera juice into your diet, please post those ideas in the comments section below so we can all benefit from your culinary craftiness. J

Aloe Vera Smoothie

1 banana
½ cup blueberries
½ cup pineapple
1 cup aloe vera juice
Agave nectar (or stevia), to taste

For More Smoothies Recipes see the Free Aloe Vera Ebook.

SharingMom’s note: Many readers have asked me to recommend aloe vera products. Here are a few that I have tasted and consider worth recommending:

Taste Nirvana Coco Aloe Juice

Lily of the Desert Aloe Mix n’ Go Strawberry-Kiwi




The information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be used in place of seeking proper medical treatment. The author disclaims any and all liability in connection with the application and/or use of any information offered in this particular post or the entire blog. The reader should use caution when trying any remedy as allergies and untoward reactions to plants and herbs used may occur in sensitive individuals. You should always consult a physician prior to use of any herbal remedy to be sure there are no contraindications in your or your child’s specific condition or with any other herbal treatments or medications that you or your child may be currently taking. Herbs can and do react with over the counter and prescribed drugs as well as other herbs and extracts. They are strong medicine and should be approached with the caution and respect due any healing drug.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, your cost will be the same but SharingMom may receive a small commission. This helps to cover the maintenance of this site and keeps your subscription free. Thank you for your support!


The Aloe Vera Miracle: A Natural Medicine for Cancer, Cholesterol, Diabetes, Inflammation, IBS, and Other Health Conditions