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First-Ever Randomized Clinical Trial Shows Vitamin D Supplementation Improves Autism Symptoms

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin plays an important role in several systems. There is a history of vitamin D supplement use in autism patients due to its known role in maintaining health brain cells, proper neurodevelopment, and its effect on the regulation of some genes in the brain. Studies show that vitamin D impacts numerous critical aspects of brain development and brain function.

Vitamin D deficiency is widespread. As many as 77% of people with an autism diagnoses are reported to be vitamin D deficient (57%) or insufficient (30%) which points to a valuable biomarker that can lead to supplementation as a treatment strategy.

Previous research has reported significant improvement in symptoms of autism due to vitamin D supplementation of vitamin D. Patients with greater severity autism symptoms also were more deficient in vitamin D.

Researchers from the University of Assiut, Egypt conducted the first-ever double-blinded, randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial (RCT) to test the effectiveness and safety of vitamin D use in children with autism. Over a four month period, the two groups were exposed to either vitamin D (300 IU/kg/day) or an inert placebo. For comparison, US FDA recommend only 400 IU/day. Vitamin D levels were drawn from the participants at the beginning and end of the trial. Further, four reliable autism assessments were administered to measure autism severity and social maturity of the children, which included the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Aberrant Behavior Checklist, Social Responsiveness Scale, and the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (also known as ATEC scoring).

The scientists reported significant improvements in autism symptoms and social maturity among the exposed group and no reported gains among the placebo group. Some of the improvements reported among the exposed children included reductions in irritability, hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and inappropriate speech. ATEC scoring among the exposed group was significantly improved notably in the scores relating to sociability, cognitive awareness, and behavior.

This is a critical study that employed the research gold standard research study design used in studies of drug or treatment effectiveness and safety. The sample size was small (n=109); however, it was large enough to generate a statistical significance.

A similar study, published in 2016, conducted by Dr. Richard Frye of Phoenix Children’s Hospital and colleagues, reported improvement in autism symptoms, particularly verbal skills, with supplementation of folinic acid. Future studies should capture a larger sample size and may include neuroimaging to document brain changes with the use of vitamin D supplementation or combination therapies.

The study was published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.The authors declared that they did not receive any funding for their work and they have no conflict of interest to report.

Summary: For the first time, a randomized clinical trial was conducted on the effectiveness and safety of vitamin D supplementation among autistic children with the result of significant improvement among autism symptoms and scoring, which was well tolerated among the participants.

More Info: Saad, K., Abdel-Rahman, A., Elserogy, Y., Al-Atram, A., El-Houfey, A., . . . Abdel-Salam, A. (2018). Randomized controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in children with autism spectrum disorders. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12652


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