Family Benefits of Vitamin D

January 13, 2017

in Ask Dr Lisa, Autism Challenges, Family Health


“Dr. Lisa, it seems I am sometimes low in vitamin D. For example, one test said I was low, another by a different doctor said I was not. I do take a supplement, yet my most recent blood test said I was still low. I also read  that Vitamin D can help my son’s ASD challenges. Is this true and if so, how can I increase my vitamin D and his as well? ” ~ Melissa, Arkansas 

Excellent questions! First let’s discuss the story behind vitamin D so we understand the benefits and deficiency as well as its connection with autism. At the end of this article, I will explain to you why your blood tests may be giving you inconsistent results, and how you can easily resolve this .

Let’s dive in and learn…

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin responsible for many incredible bodily functions. It is primarily known as a super hero for bone and teeth as it plays an important role in calcium absorption in the gut, maintaining a calcium balance and stimulating bone growth. It also has a major impact on over 3,000 genes in the body which affects many diseases and is known for boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body. The role vitamin D plays in many health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and autism, is quite often overlooked, so today we are going to discuss this powerhouse nutrient.

The term vitamin D is commonly referring to Vitamin D2 or D3, but a study in the January 2011 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism1 states that D3 is 87% more effective than vitamin D2 which now has become the vitamin D marker I use in my nutrition practice. Studies show that vitamin D deficiencies are most common in elderly, children and people that constantly wear sun protection or limit outdoor activities and sun exposure. It also has been reported that women and dark-skinned people make less vitamin D, and people with type 2 diabetes are 60% more likely to be vitamin D deficient.

Symptoms of bone pain and muscle weakness can mean you or your child have a vitamin D deficiency. Recent evidence has demonstrated that individuals deficient in vitamin D are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, sudden cardiac death, or heart failure as well an increased risk for cancer. They also may have a decrease in their immune system and a correlation to autism. Children with a vitamin D deficiency can get rickets, a disease that causes deformities in the skeleton. This amazing vitamin has a lot to offer, so let’s lean in and look at vitamin D a little closer.

Where Can You Find It?


Vitamin D is naturally made when the sun’s ultraviolet rays hit the skin. As the sun’s rays hit the skin, the body forms a pre-vitamin D that gets shuffled to the liver and converted to regular vitamin D. In fact, getting a suntan actually can be a good thing since this form of vitamin D has a high absorbability. Getting outside has never been so important to the body. Hello sunshine!

However, there is side of caution with too much sun exposure, especially UVA sun ray exposure (these are rays that cause skin cancer and aging) and UVB exposure (these are the rays that make vitamin D).  The proper time of day for sun exposure and sunscreen play a crucial role in getting the UVB rays and vitamin D.  My advice is to allow your or your child’s skin to get a slow healthy tan, avoiding harmful sunray times, conditions and SPF sunscreens. Instead use beneficial moisturizers such as coconut oil and to avoid sun burns, limit sun exposure by staying in the shade or wearing clothing. You can even use a non-toxic homemade SPF sunscreen if you find yourself or your child still in the sun after you had your vitamin D exposure. If you want to make your own safe sunscreen, try this recipe by DIY natural.


This “sunshine vitamin” can be naturally found in foods such as wild caught fish like salmon, mackerel and trout, dairy, mushrooms, caviar and eggs. Many foods such as breads, cereals, and milk however, are now fortified with synthetic forms of vitamin D. My issue as a nutritionist is many fortified foods are highly processed foods and as with dairy, inflammatory. Eating foods as such can lead to a leaky gut, creating a problem with the gut’s ability to absorb all vitamin and minerals. I suggest choosing foods that are wholesome, certified organic and not processed.


There are times when you or your child may need a vitamin D supplement. The RDA for vitamin D for infants under 12 months require 400 International Units (IU) per day and older children and adolescents require 600 IU per day. A multivitamin supplement for kids that contains 400 IU of vitamin D is acceptable. There are several liquid vitamin preparations for infants that contain 400 IU vitamin D per dose, as well. Chewable vitamins are generally regarded as safe for children over the age of three who are able to chew hard foods and candy, but I highly recommend a high quality certified organic supplement as many supplements are filled with artificial dyes and coloring, preservatives, fillers, GMOs, gluten, and other harmful ingredients.

Wholefood organic supplements are your best supplement choice. This is because they are derived from organically grown real food which is freeze dried and put in powder or capsule form. A high quality cod liver oil is also an excellent supplement which has 440IU in just one teaspoon. Upon vitamin testing in my practice, patients deficient in vitamin D are recommended to get a suntan, eat foods high in vitamin D and take cod liver oil and/or an organic certified wholefood supplements for bones if needed. Although each patient has different nutritional needs, I do address the benefits of vitamin D.

What are the Benefits of Vitamin D?


The most popular role of vitamin D in the body is bone protector. We know that when it comes to bones, we think calcium and when we think of calcium we think of its partner vitamin D. That is because vitamin D stimulates calcium deposit in bone and absorption in the gut as well as maintains calcium balance in the body. If you or your child are not getting enough vitamin D, your body may stop depositing calcium into bones. If this occurs, the body will pull calcium out from your bones and put it back into the bloodstream. If this becomes a constant cycle of pulling calcium from your or your child’s bones, the bones will become weak, brittle and at a high risk for fractures. Strong bones come from an adequate amount of vitamin D from sun and food sources.


Recent reports have demonstrated that a vitamin D deficiency increases risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, sudden cardiac death, or heart failure. According to a 2008 study in Circulation having an adequate amount of vitamin D in your diet and blood will help lower your blood pressure and improve vascular compliance which decreases your overall risk of heart disease. A fascinating study by the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction database of 259,891 heart attacks reported that heart attacks surged by 53% during sun-deprived winter months compared to sub-tropical climates, where sun shines year-round and seasonal variations existed. In fact, there are several reports that link a lack of sun to be a risk factor of heart disease, but we do need to consider the correlation of a poor diet and food choices as well. You can look to the Greenland Eskimos who have little exposure to sun, diets high in healthy fats and low risk for heart disease to see the importance nutrition plays on the heart.


A curious trend I have been reading about and seeing in my nutrition practice is vitamin D deficiency in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I test children for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and have noticed that those with poor diets and ASD tend to be low in numerous (almost too many) vitamin and minerals, commonly vitamin D. However, this does not mean that all children with ASD are automatically low in vitamin D, nor does it mean you should supplement with vitamin D without knowing if you child is truly deficient. I cannot stress this enough. Too many times I witness parents giving supplements to their children because they read or heard that a particular supplement can help their child with ASD. I understand the love behind this, but never give your child a supplement without knowing if your child is deficient and needs that supplement. This can be easily done with a blood test, preferably with a nutritionist.

Let’s look at some fascinating findings.

In 2008, Dr. John Cannell published a paper suggesting that vitamin D was associated with autism. The paper also suggested an increased prevalence of autism in the USA in regions of greater cloud cover and rainfall and less sun exposure. A study conducted in the Faroe Islands found that children with autism had lower vitamin D levels than their parents or siblings who did not have autism.  I also came across several studies reporting that more children with autism are born during the spring, which is the time of year with the lowest vitamin D levels. Pretty interesting, right?

I also found an intriguing report where researchers in Sweden determined that children were diagnosed with autism had lower vitamin D levels at birth than their “typical” siblings did. This study raises questions and further need for studies as to whether vitamin D levels at birth are dependent on the mother’s vitamin D levels as opposed to genetic factors.

As a nutritionist when I see so many reports connecting children with ASD with vitamin D deficiency as I do in my office and I combine this with knowing it is very common for children with ASD to have poor diets (sometimes due to sensory issues), I am excited to test them and to possibly discover if vitamin D is in fact a contributing factor to their ASD challenges and ask what other vitamins may be as well?.


According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, vitamin D reduces your risk of multiple sclerosis. It also has been reported to prevent cancer and boost your immune system preventing the likelihood of getting sick. A study done in Japan, for example, showed that schoolchildren taking 1,200 units of vitamin D per day during the winter time reduced their risk of getting influenza A infection by about 40 percent.  It also has been reported to fight infections.

Dr. Michael Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution, stated “We know that the immune cells use vitamin D and that they activate vitamin D. There’s good evidence that it will help kill tuberculosis bacteria, for example, if you have adequate vitamin D on board… We think that the immune system is primed with vitamin D in order to help fight infections.” He also continued and talked about how vitamin D plays a crucial role in cancers. “Studies have shown that if you improve your vitamin D status, it reduces risk of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and a whole host of other deadly cancers by 30 to 50 percent. You’re correct. Cancer is a big deal. You need to realize that vitamin D is playing a very important role in helping to maintain cell growth and to help fight cancer when a cancer cell is developing in your body.” (

As you can see vitamin D is not only a great bone protector, but a superhero nutrient for protecting the body from heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, conditions related to the immune system and many other diseases. It also has an intriguing link with autism which as a nutritionist I find fascinating to have another marker to monitor in helping a child overcome challenges related to ASD.

What You Can Do


Now that you have the all the goodies on Vitamin D, make sure you know if you or your child are actually vitamin D deficient before taking a supplement. The only way to do this is to have a blood test to determine so. My lab tests are different from conventional tests where I test how your cells function and interact with vitamin D over the past 4 months versus the conventional tests most medical doctors perform which tests how much vitamin D is floating around in your blood in the past 24-48 hours. If you have had the conventional type of test done and get different results, this is why. Testing what is floating in you blood for up to 48 hours changes from day to day and is also influenced by what you eat or sun exposure from day to day as well.

If you find out through blood testing you or your child is deficient in vitamin D, my recommendation is to try the above sources discussed before supplements. As mentioned above, many supplements are loaded with junk fillers, dyes, , gluten, GMOs, yeast and other ingredients that can be  counterproductive to other health issues. I personally use this brand only when needing a supplement, but please understand I am not advising you to take them in this article. You are welcome to meet with me in my office or via Skype or Face Time to discuss your health concerns, blood testing and supplementation further.

Lastly, vitamin D works together with many other nutrients- vitamin K2 and calcium are two of vitamin D’s best friends. If you or your child are deficient in other important vitamins or minerals, they can be the cause of low or fluctuating low levels of vitamin D too. Also, if you or your child suffer from a leaky gut, the gut’s ability to absorb vitamin and minerals from food and supplements decreases dramatically. This is why a full vitamin and mineral lab and leaky gut testing as I do is key in creating optimal health in the body. You can find out if you or your child have a leaky gut here.

Resources: *Always read my disclaimer and photo credits are given to Adobe. This page contains affiliate links meaning we earn a commission if you use those links. We only recommend brands we use and trust. 

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