Women who reported not taking a daily prenatal vitamin immediately before and during the first month of pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder as women who did take the supplements and the associated risk rose to seven times as great when combined with a high-risk genetic make-up, a study by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute has found.
"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.
The finding was "strong and robust," the study authors said, and is the first to suggest a concrete step women can take that may reduce the risk of having a child with autism. The study, "Prenatal vitamins, functional one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism in the CHARGE Study," is published online early this week on the website of the journal Epidemiology. It is scheduled to appear in print in July.
Consuming prenatal vitamins may be especially effective for genetically susceptible mothers and their children. For women with a particular high-risk genetic make up who reported not taking prenatal vitamins, the estimated risk of having a child with autism was as much as seven times greater than in women who did report taking prenatal vitamins and who had more favorable gene variants, the study found.
The authors postulate that folic acid, the synthetic form of folate or vitamin B9, and the other B vitamins in prenatal supplements, likely protect against deficits in early fetal brain development. Folate is known to be critical to neurodevelopment and studies have found that supplemental folic acid has the potential to prevent up to 70 percent of neural t
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University of California - Davis Health System