Monday, June 25, 2007

Acting White: Vitamin D, Autism, and Learning Disadvantages in Black Children

Hypovitaminosis D is a medical phrase that we should all begin to get use to hearing, as it relates to our health. It is the medical description for the numerous and varied maladies stemming from vitamin D deficiency.

While the medical community scrambles, some would say haplessly, to get the word out on the critical importance of vitamin D, the leading edge of that same community continues to unearth data pointing to its widespread health impacts in whites, people-of-color, and particularly in blacks.

In this latest installment, the implications of inadequate D levels are linked to autism, analyzed by factors of race and latitude – the determinant of intensity of sunlight. Autism, a psychiatric disorder of childhood characterized by marked deficits in cognitive and intellectual development, represents the tip-of-the-iceberg analysis of vitamin D effects on women of childbearing age, pregnancies, and fetal and early childhood development through adulthood.

If autism is, in any part, the worse possible result of epidemic-levels of vitamin D deficiency, showing itself in 6 of each 1000 children (US), how might millions of children and adults manifest lesser symptoms in ways that correlate to D levels from the melanin in their skin and the amount of sunlight they are getting each day? Black children in the US score an average of 15 points lower than white children on the same controlled intelligence tests, for reasons that continue to elude the best psychological and educational research.

So not only are we coming to understand that the higher rates of internal cancers, diabetes, hypertension, et al, in black adults has correlated origin in vitamin D deficiencies, but that black children are likely at the front of the line of getting short-changed in their neurodevelopment, beginning nine months before taking their first breath.

New York City Schools will shortly begin a highly-publicized cash incentive program for coaxing improvement out of under performing black kids, and this may be well and good, but paying kids money to learn when their essential vitamin D levels are slowing them down, like a drag-shoot, makes little sense. The vitamin D levels of most of these kids, like their parents, are so low that they fail to register at all in health screening.

Innovate sure. But, while we are at it, how about wrapping some free vitamin D around a promotional campaign? It's just a cheap pill and our future, regardless of race.

Take D and live! (and get some for your kids, too!)

For more information, check out

James C. Collier


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Anonymous said...


thats true...Vitamin D deficiency has much effect on men adn women health...

Suma valluru

Anonymous said...

Going out in the sun and playing instead of being on the computer all day would do it.

J. Scott said...

Interesting topic James, however in my studies of pediatric pathology this year and last, I didn't really hear this mentioned as a very common problem among children. Anyway, how are things progressing with your book?

James C. Collier said...

J.Scott: The medical research community appears to have completely missed the role of Vitamin D on our bodies. I'm still looking for the how and why. I am amazed at the disparity of knowledge and how slow the response seems to be.

As for the book, it is proceeding through edit and I am hopeful that one day it will see light. Thanks.

J. Scott said...

Mr. Collier,

Not at all being antagonistic, as I really appreciate your site, and consider it among the most thoughtful of those trying to inspire Black people to greater achievement. But, I have to direct your attention to the following.

This is a link to, it is the site that MDs and PhD's use to search out medical journal articles on any given topic.

The medical research community has warned us against 'pop medicine' which is generally considered articles written in non-medical journals that make sensational claims and accusations based on data that has been misconstrued or placed out of context. As you know, statistics can be very deceiving if you do not know what you are looking at.

Type in "Vitamin D deficiency and Children" in the link above and you will see 2718 separate articles written on the topic and published in journals where they are subjected to the scrutiny of their MD and PhD peers around the world. Papers and publications such as these are what shape and mold the direction of evidence based medicine. Papers like these are how we know little intricacies about which treatments (out of dozens) work better, that immunizations are actually effectively lowering the incidence of infectious disease, the natural course of disease on the molecular/genetic level and how to modify it, etc. Before you accuse the medical community of completely missing anything, you need to examine the content of these articles and the medical community's response to them. Sadly, most people don't know this, and go crazy everytime they see something on CNN about the next major medical crisis. Which is generally not news at all, and has been known to the medical community for some time.
Milk, Cereal, and Pudding are some of the most common vitamin D fortified foods in the U.S. market. This came into practice in the 1930s when Rickets became a major public health issue. Incidentally, Rickets (skeletal deformity) is the most common manifestation of vitamin D deficiency we are aware of at this point.
But, yes, it is true that darker skinned individuals are susceptible to more vitamin D deficiency than the average white kid. I'm just saying that there's not much indication that this fact has anything to do with intelligence among black children.

James C. Collier said...

J.Scott: Thanks, for your thoughtful words. While I agree that continuing research is needed, it is the CDC (Emory University medical professionals) who are telling us that nearly 50% of black women are vitamin D deficient. It is also the CDC telling us that D is, in reality, a vital pro-steroid hormone with widespread influence on the specific health challenges blacks face, amid historical blank MD response. The FDA is currently revising the RDA of D and indicates that it is going up by at lease 1/2 or a full order of magnitude. I checked the sources of the D and Autism article posted on the VitaminDCouncil site and found no reason to question them (granted I am not an MD). Lastly, personally I am not lactose intolerant (love pudding) and am an avid outdoors man, but nonetheless I registered deficient in D, as did my kids. I have been taking 2,500 IU's/day of D for the last six months and my blood calcium levels have remained spot-on average, indicating no overage. My MD is not advocating my regimen, but he also cannot advocate against it, as I seem to be 'out ahead of him on this topic', as he quips. I am not saying D is the end all beat all, but the medical community's single-focus on D as it relates to rickets prevention, for that last 75 years, is a professional embarrassment amid other health care advances and entrenched disparities. Again, I greatly appreciate your thoughtful input.

joicee said...

Thank you so much for this post

Anonymous said...

As an urban educator, and a recently diagnosed victim of osteporosis, I can speak to the significance of Vitamin D deficit.
My osteporosis is actualy caused by a deficiency in vitamin D which is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Additionally, vitamin D is not readily available in many foods. This is why milk, orange juice and some cereals have been fortified with vitamin D.
When I received my diagnosis I began to research vitamin D deficiency, its symptoms, causes, and recent prevalence in the US.
I avoided "pop" medicine and sought out medical journals.
The more I came to understand the body's critical need for vitamin D, especially for its role in cognitive functioning,I thought of my students.
I have spent a career teaching in schools of need, many in black, urban poor communities. If you are familiar with these type of communities you know that grocery stories are practically nonexistent. However, corner stores are prevalent and will accept food stamps. Parents without access to transportation are likely to shop at the corner store where fresh produce is absent and food prices, in general, are relatively high. Thus parents shop for "filler" foods, food that will depress their child's hunger, but, unfortunately, compromise their nutrient intake.
Additionally, these students are dark-skinned. The skin of peoples who originated in locations that provided short, intense rays of sun for longer periods of time darkened. The abundance of melatonin protected them from harmful rays of the sun. Those people's relocation to places that provide seasonally longer, less intense rays of sunlight are the ones who are most likely to have Vitamin D deficits because the extra melatonin that darkens their skin makes it more difficult for the skin to access vitamin D.
For years we have pondered the achievement gap between black and white students, basically blaming it on parents, community, and racial difference in ability. I would argue that these students are seriously deprived of vitamin D.
Back to my story... my doctor gave me a prescription for 50,000 units of cholacalciferol. I took my first pill last Sunday. On Monday morning, rather than my usual struggle to awaken when the alarm clock rings, I was up and alert a half hour before it went off. I was noticably more energetic and productive throughout the day. Instead of heading to bed at 6PM, I was able to work, read and prepare for the next day before I retired at 11. I had deep, REM sleep. I dreamed for the first time in years. The next morning I waas up with the sunrise. This pattern has continued, and has elicited comments from my husband, friends and colleagues. The difference is noticable after ONE dose of vitamin D. This is no clinical study, just one personal case about the benefits of vitamin D. I should, in my testimony, include that my cognitive function improved considerably. My memory is stronger and my capacity for expressive vocabulary has begun to return.
My experience suggests that there is an urgent need for clinical and academic research focused on the causal relationship of vitamin D deficiency and the "Performance Gap" between black students and their white counterparts.