nd3000/ShutterstockDespite years of research, we still don’t have a definitive link between an expectant mother’s diet during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, a new study, led by researchers at Drexel University and published in the medical journal BMJ, suggests that children whose mothers took prenatal vitamins are approximately 30 percent less likely to develop ASD along with intellectual disability—a form of developmental disability.
ASD includes a range of conditions, including Asperger syndrome, which alters social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD, and its prevalence in American children has more than doubled in a decade: In 2000, 1 child out of 150 had been diagnosed with the condition; by 2010, the rate was 1 in 68.
Researchers drew on medical data from 273,107 mothers and their children living in Stockholm, Sweden, focusing on families in which the children were born between 1996 and 2007. The mothers had reported their use of folic acid, iron, and multivitamin supplements at their first prenatal visit; the researchers then checked national registers to identify cases of children with ASD. The researchers found that multivitamin use—with or without additional iron and/or folic acid—seemed to lower the risk of ASD with intellectual disability by almost half, compared to mothers who did not take multivitamins. (There was no consistent evidence that iron or folic acid use reduced ASD incidence.) Although the results seem encouraging—take prenatal vitamins to lower ASD risk—it’s crucial to note that the benefit only applied to ASD with intellectual disability. The odds of developing ASD alone didn’t change.
(Your prenatal multivitamin should contain vitamin B3, which is believed to protect your baby against birth defects.)
While the findings are interesting and establish a link between prenatal vitamins and a lower risk of ASD, they cannot establish cause and effect. However, the researchers hope future research will nail down more specifics. “There have been more studies in recent years about varied aspects of diet during pregnancy and autism risk involving multivitamins, iron, folic acid, vitamin D and more, but the evidence is still inconclusive,” says lead study author Elizabeth DeVilbiss, PhD, as reported on EurekAlert! “More work needs to be done in this area to clarify these potential relationships. If there is a causal relationship, we also need to understand whether there is a critical window for exposure, and what specific nutrients and amounts may be required for protection,” she says.
Look out for autism symptoms in your child.