What role does the sun play in the development of autism? That's what a new study hopes to find out. According to a report published today by Environmental Health News, scientists are now looking closely at the possible connection between autism and vitamin D.

A recent Saudi Arabian study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation looked at the blood levels of vitamin D in children with and without autism and found that the autistic kids had significantly lower levels of the "sunshine vitamin" than their peers. In all, researchers tested 50 children with autism, and 30 children without autism between the ages of 5 and 12. Forty percent of children with autism were also vitamin D deficient, while none of the children without autism were. And the numbers appeared to be inversely proportional - the lower the child's vitamin D levels, the higher that child scored on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, which measures autism severity.

The researchers also found that 70 percent of the children with autism had higher levels of antibodies in their blood streams that could potentially disrupt the signaling of neurons in the brain. Again, the lower the child's level of vitamin D, the more antibodies they had, and the more severe were the child's measurements on the autism scale. These antibodies could potentially induce inflammation that would trigger some of the symptoms of autism.

“There is a growing body of literature linking vitamin D to various immune-related conditions, including allergy and autoimmunity,” said Laila Y. AL-Ayadhi, a professor of neurophysiology at King Saud University and one of the study’s lead researchers.

One such study - this one conducted by the Vitamin D Council - found that children with the highest exposure to UVB rays in summer and fall had about half the autism rates of children who lived in states with lower UVB exposures.

In addition to the potential autism link, vitamin D deficiency can also hinder bone strength and growth as the body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium from food. On a sunny day, the body can get all of the vitamin D it needs from 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen. But with the increased use of sunscreen to protect skin, health care professionals are seeing a startling increase in the frequency of severe vitamin D deficiency The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine recommend a daily intake of 400 IU per day of vitamin D during the first year of life beginning in the first few days, and 600 IU for everyone over age one. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you - and your kids - to get your vitamin D.

Is there a link between autism and vitamin D?
New study fins autistic children have significantly lower vitamin D levels in their blood than their non-autistic peers.