Autism is an affliction that worries all parents-to-be, and an increasingly large number of children are developing the disorder (currently one in every 68 American newborns). But a high profile doctor believes that we can have a massive impact on the problem simply by making sure that mothers and young children get enough vitamin D.
Doctor John J Cannell MD is about to release a book entitled Autism Causes, Prevention and Treatment: Vitamin D Deficiency and the Explosive Rise of Autism Spectrum Disorder in which he uses decades of research to demonstrate a link between vitamin D deficiency and autism. He spoke to redOrbit about how pregnant women can obtain safe levels of vitamin D through supplementation and sunlight, and how sun exposure is not the evil it is currently portrayed to be.
“Just within the last several weeks there was a ground-breaking study published in which they tested about a hundred families who had one child with autism and at least one child without,” Dr. Cannell told us. “They went back and got blood from when they were born, and found that the child with autism had much lower vitamin D levels than did the typically developing child.”
“Vitamin D levels have strong genetic components,” he continued. “You can overcome that genetic component by taking supplements or exposing yourself to the sun,” avoiding the lottery of inherited vitamin D levels. A family’s chances of experiencing autism can be greatly reduced by “making sure the mothers have plenty of vitamin D and giving vitamin D to the infants.”
“Increasingly it’s becoming clear that all mothers around the world should be at least tested for vitamin D deficiency,” Dr. Cannell says. But he adds that “about 75 or 80 percent of mothers would need vitamin D supplements or sun exposure. Instead of blood testing millions and millions of women, it’s probably wise to just give pregnant women the appropriate levels (5000 units per day in his view) of vitamin D supplementation.”
We have forgotten that the sun’s rays are healthy
As for that sun exposure, Dr. Cannell says that there is no need go out and get sunburnt, but it is important for pregnant women to get a little sun exposure often. He points out that the current Surgeon General is a dermatologist, who gives “terrible advice” in telling people to avoid the sun altogether. He says that for most of human history: “We were semi-naked in the summertime, hunting and working, and stored up vitamin D to use in the winter.” Even “in the 60s and 70s, before the autism epidemic was with us, there were no sunblocks on the market.”
Cannell says that: “We recommend using sunblock on your face and your hands. The rest of your body should be free of sunblock, and you should only sunbathe for five or ten minutes at first, then you can extend the time a little bit more. People who burn easily can just go out for a minute or two. It’s also important to note that you can’t make much vitamin D if your shadow is longer than you are (i.e. in the evening).” Remember the shadow rule! He advises.
Some people may quite reasonably prefer a natural diet to get their vitamins over supplements, but Dr. Cannell says that “regular food does not contain any vitamin D in any appreciable quantities.” Only obscure foods such as wild oily fish and reindeer meat contain decent amounts, and plenty of sun and supplements are by far the best methods of getting enough. “I would think that at least half of the cases of autism cases could be prevented with sufficient supplementation, probably more than half,” he suggests. “That’s a lot of children.”
Taking action during infancy and toddlerhood (and in some cases reversing autism)
So what about after a child is born? In Dr. Cannell’s opinion, there is a strong case for giving toddlers vitamin D supplements in the case of deficiency, as well as encouraging their use in mothers.
It is in toddlerhood that autism first manifests itself. The first problem is that children are taken from breastfeeding too early and put onto formula. We should also not assume that moderate exposure to the entity that sustains all life on earth, the sun, is going to kill our children and therefore smother them with sunblock every time they go outside. New mothers should also continue their pregnancy habits (supplements and sun exposure) after birth, so that the breast milk is healthy. It is not breastfeeding in itself that helps to protect against autism, but the vitamin D that it can provide if the mother has the right habits.
Dr. Cannell says that he started an online clinic for parents of children with autism, advising them on how to supplement properly. He saw astonishing results. “My experience in doing that is that about 25 percent of children responded dramatically to the point where the children no longer appeared to have autism,” he told us.
A further large percentage had some positive response, and around a quarter did not respond at all. “It’s possible that some of the cases have such vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy that the brain is injured to a point where it cannot be repaired.”
The state of the healthcare union
Where is the general medical community on this? “The resistance is lessening,” says Dr. Cannell. “Now, I’m not going to them, they’re coming to me.” The standard recommendation is still nowhere near his recommendation of 5000 units of vitamin D per day, but he anticipates that it will continue to increase.
“One of the facts that floored me is that if you sunbathe in the summer time for ten minutes you make between 10 and 20 thousand units of vitamin D. Why would nature devise a system that made that much vitamin D that quickly? Nature probably did it for a good reason. There’s an order of magnitude between what nature recommends and what the government recommends.”
He says that doctors in the mid-twentieth century giving stupidly high doses of vitamin D have led to persistent concerns that vitamin D is dangerous. At the dose he recommends he says it is safe, and may very well prevent or reverse autism.
Vaccines do not cause autism!
Finally, what about the current trend of avoiding toddler vaccinations because of autism fears? Dr. Cannell says that it is understandable that parents might look to things like vaccinations because they don’t understand where autism is coming from. But now we can understand it, and realize that what some people feared was caused by jabs during infancy was actually caused by low vitamin D levels.
“One of the reasons that parents still think vaccinations cause autism is that MMR is given between 12 and 15 months of age, which is when many children with autism first develop signs. They assume that it must have been the vaccine, but it’s purely coincidental.”
The message is that we do not need to fear the vaccines that have launched the health of the human race light-years beyond the pre-vaccination era, and can instead look to a comparatively simple solution to autism: getting enough vitamin D.
Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council which addresses the issues above and others. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an MD and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.