How well are You Thinking? Does Lack of Sunlight Lead to Intellectual Disabilities?

How well are You Thinking? Does Lack of Sunlight Lead to Intellectual Disabilities?

By Marc Sorenson, EdD  Sunlight Institute

EXCITING RESEARCH from the British Journal of Psychiatry, December 2014, points out that “People with intellectual disabilities have a high risk of osteoporosis and fractures.”[i] The researchers theorized that vitamin D deficiency could have an influence on intellectual shortcomings, since it is well-known that vitamin D is absolutely essential to optimal bone health. To test their theory, they measured the vitamin D levels of 155 patients with intellectual disabilities and compared them to 192 controls who had no such disabilities.

The results were compelling: nearly twice as many patients with intellectual disabilities were vitamin D deficient when compared to normal controls. The researchers pointed out that they were able to normalize D levels with supplementation, but did not report whether the supplementation abated the intellectual problems.

The investigators concluded that “Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in people with intellectual disabilities, partly because of INSUFFICIENT EXPOSURE TO SUNLIGHT. Screening and treatment strategies, aiming to reduce these patients’ high fracture risk, should be introduced. Similar strategies may be required in other psychiatric populations at risk for fractures and with a TENDENCY TO SPEND EXCESSIVE TIME INDOORS.”

The researchers obviously understood that the best method to obtain vitamin D is through sunlight exposure. The phrase “partly because of INSUFFICIENT EXPOSURE TO SUNLIGHT,” however, is probably not the best descriptive tool. On average, ninety percent of vitamin D in human serum is due to sunlight exposure. Other sources of vitamin D such as from fish and supplements—are produced by sunlight or other UV light exposure. The term “partly” should simply be deleted from the phrase.

One of the most persuasive pieces of information on fractures showed that women in Spain—those who continually seek the sun— have about one-eleventh the risk of hip fractures as those who have little sunlight exposure.[ii] No research, (that I have seen), indicates any such profound protection by high D levels alone, although high levels are essential for the absorption of calcium. Sunlight has many effects on the human body beyond producing vitamin D—effects that may also lessen the risk of fracture and osteoporosis.

At this point I would like theorize regarding the Spanish women who were continually in the sunlight: they probably had only a small fraction of the intellectual disabilities experienced by those who had little sunlight exposure. This is conjecture, of course—but conjecture based on common sense (derived undoubtedly from my daily habit of sunbathing). It would also be a fertile field for more research.

We also know that osteoporosis is, to an extent, a reversible disease. This is not to say that those who have lost several inches of height, due to bone dissolution, will be able to regain that height and stand up straight and tall again; it does mean that some lost bone mass could be replaced, and the risk of fracture remarkably diminished. Several times, a Japanese physician named Sato, has shown that a year of sunlight exposure can increase bone mass and profoundly reduce the risk of hip fracture in women who already suffer from osteoporosis.[iii] In fact, their risk of fracture reduced to 1/6 the risk of women who stayed indoors.

I theorize also that the women who spent a year in the sunlight likely increased their intellectual capacities. This is another fertile field for research.

I seems a SMART thing to do to preserve and strengthen the bones while also increasing the mental capacities, no?  It may be as simple as exposing oneself to regular, non-burning sunlight

[i] Frighi V, Morovat A, Stephenson MT, White SJ, Hammond CV, Goodwin GM. Vitamin D deficiency in patients with intellectual disabilities: prevalence, risk factors and management strategies. Br J Psychiatry 2014 Dec;205(6):458-64.

[ii] Larrosa, M.  Vitamin D deficiency and related factors in patients with osteoporotic hip fracture.  Med Clin (BARC) 2008;130:6-9.

[iii] Sato, Y. et al.  Amelioration of osteoporosis and hypovitaminosis D by sunlight exposure in stroke patients.  Neurology 2003;61:338-42.

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