Till startsida
University of Gothenburg
To content Read more about how we use cookies on gu.se

Studies of vitamin D levels in children with autism

Participants: Elisabeth Fernell, Martina Barnevik Olsson, Christopher Gillberg, Eva Kočovská, Eva Billstedt, Helen Minnis, Gudrid Andorsdóttir, Pál Weihe, Jónrit Halling, Tormódur Stóra, Rannvá Biskupstø, Carina Gillberg, Robyn Shea, Thomas Bourgeron, Gunnel Bågenholm, Maria Sääf, Sven Gustafsson, Frida Kristiansson, Asia Mohamed, Helena Martin, Mats Humble, Susanne Bejerot & Carmela Miniscalco.

A previous collaboration between Stockholm and Gothenburg (GNC) analysed the prevalence of autism in children of Somali descent, living in Stockholm. The prevalence was found to be at least 3-4 times higher in the group of Somali children compared to other groups of children with autism in Stockholm. Some studies have analysed the vitamin D levels in mothers and in pregnant women, both of Somali descent and of Swedish descent.

One underlying cause of the studies has been that experimental studies have shown that adequate levels of vitamin D are important to the brain's development during the foetal stage.

One study analysed vitamin D (s-25-OHD) during pregnancy in 20 women of Somali descent and 20 women of ethnically Swedish descent in conjunction with their first visits to the maternity care centre. The study showed that the median level S-25-OHD was significantly lower in the women of Somali descent compared to those of Swedish descent. A value of over 75 nmol/L for S-25-OHD is usually considered a guideline in terms of adequate level of vitamin D. In this study the median value was 11 nmol/L in the Somali group and 70 nmol/L in the Swedish group. All women in the Somali group had vitamin D deficiency.

A subsequent study performed a follow-up on the children born to the women of Somali descent, by analysing the results of the standardised 4-year-checkup at the child care centre (CCC). CCC data for 17 children was analysed. No suspicion of autism was mentioned for any of the children in their respective CCC records. However, it turned out that a significantly lower proportion of this group of children had been able to manage the "core tasks" included in the 4-year-checkup relative to the entire group of children examined in that county.

A population-based study from the Faroe Islands, a collaboration between GNC and researchers in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands, examined vitamin D levels of 40 adolescents/young adults with autism spectrum disorders, their siblings who did not have autism, their parents, as well as a control group made up of 40 individuals matched for age and gender. The study showed that the adolescents with autism had significantly lower vitamin D levels than siblings, parents and the control group of the same age. The low vitamin D value in the group with autism might reflect factors related to the autism condition itself, with increased indoor activity and reduced exposition to sun, as well as to dietary factors with limited choice of foods. The findings might also indicate that low vitamin D levels themselves may be an underlying risk factor for development of autism.

Another study has analysed vitamin D levels in the PKU test, taken during the newborn phase, for children who have gone on to develop autism, and then compared those children's results to their respective siblings who have not developed autism. This study has been carried out in collaboration with professor Darryl Eyles, Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, the PKU laboratory, Karolinska University Hospital, and GNC. The study analysed the vitamin D levels (25-OHD in 58 sibling pairs, wherein one sibling had developed autism and the other had not. The group consisted of 47 representative sibling pairs in Gothenburg, from different ethnic backgrounds, and 11 sibling pairs of Somali descent in Stockholm. Blood samples taken during the newborn phase for metabolic screening, the so-called PKU test, were analysed for all participants. The study showed for the combined group of 58 sibling pairs that the children with autism spectrum disorders had had significantly lower vitamin D levels at birth compared to their siblings who had not developed autism. It turned out that all children of African and Middle Eastern descent, both those who had autism and those who did not, had had vitamin D deficiencies during the foetal stage. The group studied is small but even so, the result ultimately indicates that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy might be a risk factor for development of autism spectrum disorders. Further studies should focus on whether supplements of vitamin D during pregnancy in risk groups can reduce the occurrence of the child developing autism.


Fernell, E., Bejerot, S., Westerlund, J., Miniscalco, C., Simila, H., Eyles, D., Gillberg, C., & Humble, MB. (2015). Autism spectrum disorder and low vitamin D at birth: a sibling control study. Mol Autism, 6, 3.

Fernell, E., Mohamed, A.A., Martin, H., Bågenholm, G., & Gillberg C. (2015). Children born to mothers of Somali origin with severe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy - development at age 4 years. Acta Paediatrica, 104, 428-429.

Kočovská, E., Andorsdóttir, G., Weihe, P., Halling, J., Fernell, E., Stóra, T., Biskupstø, R., Gillberg, I.C., Shea, R., Billstedt, E., Bourgeron, T., Minnis, H., Gillberg, C. (2014). Vitamin D in the general population of young adults with autism in the Faroe Islands. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 2996-3005.

Kočovská, E., Fernell, E., Billstedt, E., Minnis, H., & Gillberg, C. (2012). Vitamin D and autism: clinical review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1541-1550.

Sääf, M., Fernell, E., Kristiansson, F., Barnevik Olsson, M., Gustafsson, S.A., & Bågenholm, G. (2011). Severe vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women of Somali origin living in Sweden. Acta Paediatrica, 100, 612-614.

Fernell, E., Barnevik-Olsson, M., Bågenholm, G., Gillberg, C., Gustafsson, S., & Sääf, M. (2010). Serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in mothers of Swedish and of Somali origin who have children with and without autism. Acta Paediatrica, 99, 743-747.

Barnevik-Olsson, M., Gillberg, C., & Fernell, E. (2010). Prevalence of autism in children of Somali origin living in Stockholm: brief report of an at-risk population. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 52, 1167-1168.


Barnevik-Olsson, M., Gillberg, C., & Fernell, E. (2008). Prevalence of autism in children born to Somali parents living in Sweden: a brief report. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 50, 598-601.



Page Manager: Anna Spyrou|Last update: 10/26/2015

The University of Gothenburg uses cookies to provide you with the best possible user experience. By continuing on this website, you approve of our use of cookies.  What are cookies?