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Serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in mothers of Swedish and of Somali origin who have children with and without autism

Fernell E, Barnevik-Olsson M, Bågenholm G, Gillberg C, Gustafsson S, Sääf M. (2010) Acta Paediatr. 99(5) 743-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2010.01755.x. Epub 2010 Mar 5. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here



To analyse serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in mothers of Somali origin and those of Swedish origin who have children with and without autism as there is a growing evidence that low vitamin D impacts adversely on brain development.


Four groups of mothers were invited to participate; 20 with Somali origin with at least one child with autism, 20 with Somali origin without a child with autism, 20 of Swedish origin with at least one child with autism and 20 with Swedish origin without a child with autism. Two blood samples were collected from each individual; during autumn and spring.


Between 12 and 17 mothers from the different groups accepted to participate, both groups of mothers of Somali origin had significantly lower values of 25-hydroxyvitamin D compared with Swedish mothers. The difference of 25-hydroxyvitamin D between mothers of Somali origin with and without a child with autism was not significant.


Our findings of low vitamin D levels in Somali women entail considerable consequences in a public health perspective. The observed tendency, i.e. the lowest values in mothers of Somali origin with a child with autism was in the predicted direction, supporting the need for further research of vitamin D levels in larger samples of Somali mothers of children with and without autism.


Vitamin D is best known for its key role in calcium absoprtion and bone health, but adequate supplies during pregnancy and early life are also essential for normal brain development and function.

Animal studies have repeatedly shown that maternal Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can permanently disrupt brain development and function in the offspring - leading to lifelong behavioural disturbances resembling ADHD, autism, schizophrenia and related developmental or mental health conditions.

This evidence has raised the important question of whether Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy may lead to similar effects on brain development and behaviour in humans. 

Individuals with darker skin have a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency than those with paler skin, other things being equal (as melanin reduces the amount of Vitamin D that can be made by exposure of skin to bright sunlight).  It is therefore plausible that Vitamin D deficiencies might contribute to at least some of the elevated risks for developmental and mental health conditions observed in darker-skinned migrant populations in countries where pale skin has hitherto been the norm (as low melanin is now thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to a relative lack of sunlight).

In the current study, Somali-born mothers in Sweden were found to have significantly lower Vitamin D status than matched controls with Swedish ancestry. And Vitamin D status was lowest in those Somali mothers whose child had been diagnosed with autism.

While the Vitamin D status of this group was not significantly lower than that of Somali mothers with typically developing children (and this would require very large differences given the small study numbers), the difference was in the predicted direction - suggesting that further investigations are merited.  

See also:

See also:

And for more information on Vitamin D and autism, please see the following lists, which are regularly updated: