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2014-03-12

Vitamin D's Mechanism Discovered: How it Affects Mood & Cognition

A new study has discovered how vitamin D has a critical influence on levels of serotonin in the brain and how it may directly effect social behaviours associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This study suggests that sufficient levels of vitamin D are required to produce the neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain, which shapes the structure and wiring of the brain and influences social behaviour.

In fact, the study demonstrated that vitamin D three brain hormones--serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin--all of which affect social behaviour. Without getting into the technical details, it does this by affecting gene transcription, which connects sun/UV exposure to serotonin and autism.

The researchers point out that autism, which is characterized by abnormal social behaviour, had previously been linked to low levels of vitamin D, and low serotonin levels in the brain. However, the mechanism, or how or why this link existed, was unknown until now.

“This mechanism explains how low vitamin D hormone levels result in aberrant serotonin synthesis,
subsequently leading to abnormal brain development,” wrote the researchers. “Low vitamin D hormone levels during foetal and neonatal development could result in poor [gene] expression and subsequently reduced serotonin concentrations in the developing brain.”

These findings may mean that adequate vitamin D levels (as well as nutritional intake of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin) during pregnancy and early childhood are critical and may have a significant influence on serotonin levels (also affecting mood and behaviour) and how the nervous system is wired.

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Source: Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism 

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