The link between vitamin A deficiencies in young children with autism spectrum disorders

A new clinical trial came out in December, 2020, titled, “A weekly vitamin A supplementary program alleviates social impairment in Chinese children with autism spectrum disorders and vitamin A deficiency”. This trial was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Scientists in this trial are looking at kids in China who have both an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a vitamin A deficiency to see if giving them a weekly dose of vitamin A supplements, instead of the recommended vitamin A supplementary program will help them with their social responsiveness. They found that 77.9% of children in China who have ASD are prone to a vitamin A deficiency as well.

To break this trial down, let’s start with what a vitamin A deficiency looks like. Common symptoms could include dry skin, stunted growth, dry eyes, night blindness, throat and chest congestion, and poor wound healing. Vitamin A is also essential for brain development, and it’s transported through the blood in a form called retinol. 

An earlier study done by the same group of scientists showed the benefits of giving more vitamin A supplements to children with ASD because it raised their serum retinol levels (the amount of vitamin A being transported through the blood) and decreased their 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) levels. Serum retinol is another way to say vitamin A, so the kids with ASD in this study had significantly lower serum retinol levels than the kids in the control group (kids with no ASD).

5-HT is an amino acid that your body naturally releases that aids in serotonin production. Low serotonin can cause depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping. But too much serotonin has shown to alter brain development in the womb, and also cause repetitive behaviors to appear and increase irritability. Working on balancing out these 5-HT levels to make sure they’re not too high or too low could be a key factor in helping kids with ASD, especially in social responsiveness.

So now that we have all of the information, let’s look at the trial again. This trial included 138 3–8-year-old children with ASD, 82 of whom also had vitamin A deficiencies, while the other 56 children served as the control group (kids with ASD but no vitamin A deficiency). The children then were split up into two groups where half received the recommended vitamin A supplement program while the other half was given a weekly dose of the vitamin A supplement.

The scientists found that when they gave kids with ASD and a vitamin A deficiency a weekly dose of vitamin A over the course of six months, they’re serum retinol levels increased at a better rate than the recommended program. They also tended to score better on the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a test to measure the social ability of young children, leading to an improvement in their social impairments. Though this trial is still in its very early stages, it shows great progress and positive results for the ASD community.

If you’re trying to work more vitamin A into your diet, then try incorporating the Vitapod Immunity+ pod into your daily routine. It provides you with 50% of your daily value of vitamin A, along with many more vitamins and minerals to help boost your immune system. 

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