According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, prenatal vitamin supplementation may be linked to a decreased prevalence of autism in children from high-risk families.
Data collected from 241 younger siblings of children with autism indicated that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was 14% when mothers took prenatal vitamins in their first month of pregnancy compared to 33% when mothers had not. taken supplements during that period.
“To our knowledge, this study is the first to suggest that maternal prenatal intake of vitamins during the first month of pregnancy can cut ASD recurrence by half in younger siblings of children with ASD in high-risk families. If these findings are replicated, it could have important implications for the public health of affected families,” wrote the study authors led by Rebecca Schmidt, PhD, of the University of California, Davis (USA).
Underlining the value of prenatal supplements
No claim should be made that links dietary supplements to reducing the risk of autism, but the study findings underscore "the importance of proper nutrition before and during pregnancy," said Andrea Wong, PhD, vice president of regulatory affairs. and scientists for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). "These findings further support the role that proper nutrition, including prenatal vitamin supplementation, plays in healthy pregnancies and healthy babies."
Dr. Wong added: “Folic acid, found in most prenatal vitamins, is an essential nutrient that has been shown to prevent birth defects, so women of childbearing age are encouraged to supplement with folic acid. Additional nutrients such as iodine, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron are also vital to the health and well-being of mother and baby and can be obtained through supplements if there are deficiencies in the diet.”
Researchers at UC Davis evaluated data from mothers and children who participated in the Markers of Autism Risk in Infants - Knowing the Early Signs (“MARBLES”) study. Mothers were interviewed about their use of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, while younger siblings at high risk for ASD completed a final clinical evaluation within 6 months of their third year.
The results indicated that 96% of the women interviewed declared that they took prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, but only 36% complied with the recommendations to take vitamin supplements 6 months before conception.
Children of mothers who took prenatal vitamins in the first month of pregnancy had a lower prevalence of ASD and also had significantly higher cognitive markers.
"The relationship between the use of prenatal vitamins and reduced risk of ASD could be due to any of the many nutrients these vitamins contain," say the researchers. “As suggested in previous studies, iron and especially folic acid are possible contributors given their high content of prenatal vitamins (compared to multivitamins that were not associated with a lower risk of ASD), their importance in neurodevelopment, its depletion during pregnancy and (especially for folic acid) the right moment of its effect. "
“Further studies should examine the contributions of specific nutrients from supplements as well as food sources, overall diet quality, and biological measures of nutrient status, as well as investigate dose thresholds, interactions with genetic variants and potential mechanisms”, they concluded.
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