Women who do not take prenatal vitamins early in their pregnancy are twice as likely to have a child with autism than those who do, say California researchers. This breakthrough could be the key to understanding how autism can be prevented during the prenatal period.
Prenatal Vitamins Decrease Autism Risk By Two Fold
The study, conducted by researchers from the UC David MIND Institute, used data collected from over 700 women who were asked to report on their prenatal vitamin use before, during and after pregnancy.
"Mothers of children with autism were significantly less likely than those of typically developing children to report having taken prenatal vitamins during the three months before and the first month of pregnancy," said Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and the study's lead author.
Schmidt and her colleagues found that women who were not taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception and the first two months of pregnancy had twice the risk for child with autism and if there was any known high-risk genetic predisposition to autism this risk increased seven fold. The strength of these findings, the authors say, was “strong and robust”.
This is the first study to demonstrate how nutrients provided to a fetus in the prenatal environment can affect the genetic development of autism in children. Increased levels of folic acid contained in prenatal vitamins, along with the B vitamins have been proven to play a key role in the early fetal brain development. The authors speculate that these nutrients may be what protects against autism.
"Previous work on genes has generally ignored the possibility that genes [in utero] may act in concert with environmental exposures," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor and chief of the division of environmental and occupational health in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and study author.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills. The cause of autism is unknown, however recent literature suggests that genetics may be a major factor in the development of this disorder.
This present study was retrospective, meaning that there could be incorrect information in the data due to error in a participant's recall. Therefore, more studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between early prenatal vitamin use and autism.
"The good news is,” says Hertz-Picciotto, “that if this finding is replicated, it will provide an inexpensive, relatively simple evidence-based action that women can take to reduce risks for their child, which is to take prenatal vitamins as early as possible in a pregnancy and even when planning for pregnancy.”