Monday, April 27, 2009

Autism Linkage Discovered

This is a bit of welcome news on the medical front. Perhaps it never happened before, but a large population of equatorial peoples moved directly to Wisconsin. It was large enough to raise a red flag when autism abruptly emerged among children born there. It hardly took any imagination to make the link with vitamin D deficiency. Since vitamin D deficiency is only now been recognized as a health concern in our own populations it is not too surprising that this unexpected test population would have an exaggerated response.

It is perhaps too early to confirm the link but it is not too early to have autistic children go on decent doses of vitamin D. In fact the rest of us should also if we do not get much sunlight. I personally take 2000 IUs per day since I live in Vancouver and never sunbathe.

I personally cared for autistic children on a couple of summer jobs. They are the saddest cases of disability that you have to deal with. A person suffering from brain damage is dealing with a constrained potential. A person suffering from mongolism has certain physical and mental constraints but also a predictable potential. You can optimize the lives of both. With autism you are confronted with a person of normal potential and often superior potential that goes into withdrawal from his or her surroundings and you struggle to even communicate a thing.

If a simple application of vitamin D therapy can overcome the withdrawal symptoms, then these individuals can swiftly enter the normal world as ordinary citizens in need of a crash course in remedial education.

The promise of autism was always that it could be cured by something so simple. Now if we could do the same thing with schizophrenia, we might be able to almost empty our mental health hospitals. It also conforms to a deficiency syndrome triggered by bad genetic luck.
It is thought that there may be several different causation scenarios, but this is all too soon to resolve at all and certainly was not covered in this recent item. Of course, it is a gimme that caregivers everywhere will jump onto this bandwagon and we will soon discover what the effect of therapy is, if any.

What If Vitamin D Deficiency Is a Cause of Autism?

A few researchers are turning their attention to the sunshine vitamin as a culprit, prompted by the experience of immigrants that have moved from their equatorial country to two northern latitude locations

HELP FROM THE SUN? Some researchers are turning their attention to the amount of vitamin D a mother and infant get to try to trace autism.

As evidence of widespread vitamin D deficiency grows, some scientists are wondering whether the sunshine vitamin—once only considered important in bone health—may actually play a role in one of neurology's most vexing conditions: autism.

The idea, although not yet tested or widely held, comes out of preliminary studies in Sweden and Minnesota. Last summer, Swedish researchers published a study in
Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology that found the prevalence of autism and related disorders was three to four times higher among Somali immigrants than non-Somalis in Stockholm. The study reviewed the records of 2,437 children, born between 1988 and 1998 in Stockholm, in response to parents and teachers who had raised concerns about whether children with a Somali background were overrepresented in the total group of children with autism.

In Sweden, the 15,000-strong Somali community calls autism "the Swedish disease," says Elisabeth Fernell, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and a co-author of the study.

In Minnesota, where there are an estimated 60,000 Somali immigrants, the situation was quite similar: There, health officials noted reports of autism among Somali refugees, who began arriving in 1993, comparable to those found in Sweden. Within several years of arrival, dozens of the Somali families whose children were born in the U.S. found themselves grappling with autism, says Huda Farah, a Somali-born molecular biologist who works on refugee resettlement issues with Minnesota health officials. The number of Somali children in the city's autism programs jumped from zero in 1999 to 43 in 2007, says Ann Fox, director of special education programs for Minneapolis schools. The number of Somali-speaking children in the Minneapolis school district increased from 1,773 to 2,029 during the same period.

Few, if any, Somalis had ever seen anything like it. "It has shocked the community," Farah says. "We never saw such a disease in Somalia. We do not even have a word for it."

What seemed to link the two regions was the fact that Somalis were getting less sun than in their native country—and therefore less vitamin D. The vitamin is made by the skin during sun exposure, or ingested in a small number of foods. At northern latitudes in the summertime, light-skinned people produce about 1,000 international units (IUs) of
vitamin D per minute, but those with darker skin synthesize it more slowly, says Adit Ginde, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. Ginde recommends between 1,000 to 2,000 IUs per day, calling current recommendations of 200 IUs per day outmoded.

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