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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

Autism and rickets

I have always wondered, if vitamin D deficiency is involved in autism, why don’t young autistic children have rickets. That question has gnawed on my mind for the last four years. At some time in their life, autistic children should have evidence of abnormal bones. Believe it or not, no one has ever done wrist x-rays (the easiest way to see rickets) on a group of young autistic children.

One NIH study by Dr. Mary Hediger and colleagues, found that older eight-year-old autistic boys have thinner cortices (most bones are like straws and the hard part of the straw is the cortex). In the USA, a thin cortex is usually caused from vitamin D deficiency earlier in life.

Hediger ML, England LJ, Molloy CA, Yu KF, Manning-Courtney P, Mills JL. Reduced bone cortical thickness in boys with autism or autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 May;38(5):848-56.

So yesterday, I looked on Google and found a normal wrist (figure 1). Then I found x-rays on Google of two autistic children who had fallen and broken their wrists (figures 2 and 3). Look carefully at the end of the long bones of all three children. As anyone can see, the x-rays are different. I am no radiologist, but the autistic children may have subclinical rickets.

The ages of the children are all different and that is important. However, this is not rocket science, just look at the ends of the long bones near the wrists. See how the normal one is cup-shaped with sharp edges and has a developed growth plate between the two parts of the end of the bone. See how the autistic children have no cup shape, a tiny growth palote, and it looks as if rats have been gnawing on the ends of the bones?

It is time for a simple study. Take 25 children with autism and x-ray their wrists and then take 25 children whose vitamin D level is above 40 ng/ml by either (1) taking 2,000 IU/25 pounds/day for three months, or who are outside all summer in their bathing suits without sunblock and x-ray their wrists in August. This last part is important. If they just take “normal” comparisons from a standard pediatric clinic they will include lots of children with subclinical rickets in their “normals” and skew their results.

I feel a lot better. That one question about rickets and autism had been gnawing on my mind. The reason no one knows if four-year old autistic children have rickets is because, after spending about a two and a half billion dollars on autism research, no one has ever looked to see if autistic kids have rickets. I predict that when they do, they will find a difference, unless they unethically include rachitic children in their control group.

  About: John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

One Response to Autism and rickets

  1. JBG says:

    The following restores, with a bit of editing, the comments I put here Dec 14 that were subsequently lost, I’m told, in a server crash.
    = = = = =
    I’m not sure I understand the logic of the proposed study.

    If you compare a sample of autistic children with a control sample of children who are known to be vitamin D sufficient, almost certainly a difference will be observed simply because the larger population of all children, from which the autistic sample is drawn, includes so many who are NOT vitamin D sufficient. How can one, from that result, conclude anything about autism and vitamin D deficiency? It would seem that an adequate study would need to compare a sample of autistic children with a random or parallel sample of non-autistic children, a costlier and messier proposition.
    = = = = =

    A couple further thoughts:

    It is conceivable that autism might, at least sometimes, include a
    “signature” in the way it interacts with vitamin D and with bones. A
    radiologist might be able to distinguish such a signature by qualitative
    examination of many radiographs, both autistic and non-autistic. Success
    would be demonstrated if the radiologist could then sort more radiographs
    into those from autistic children and those from non-autistic children.

    If autistic children turn out NOT to have distinctive bones, a possible
    explanation is that a child can get enough vitamin D to prevent rickets
    without getting enough to prevent autism. I’m thinking of your recent post
    about the various “pools” of vitamin D.