Australian research has found evidence of a link between
between Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and increased autism traits.
Researchers at The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute found that pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.
Project leader Professor John McGrath said the study provided further evidence that low vitamin D was associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.
“Just as taking folate in pregnancy has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, the result of this study suggests that prenatal Vitamin D supplements may reduce the incidence of autism.”
While it is widely known that Vitamin D is vital for maintaining healthy bones, there is now a solid body of evidence linking it to brain growth.
Vitamin D usually comes from exposure to the sun, but it can also be found in some foods and supplements.
The study, which also involved the Erasmus Medical Centre in The Netherlands, examined approximately 4200 blood samples from pregnant women and their children, who were closely monitored as part of the long-term “Generation R” study in Rotterdam.
Professor McGrath predicted the research could have important implications from a public health perspective.
“We would not recommend more sun exposure, because of the increased risk of skin cancer in countries like Australia.
“Instead, it’s feasible that a safe, inexpensive, and publicly accessible vitamin D supplement in at-risk groups may reduce the prevalence of this risk factor.”
Autism – or autism spectrum disorder - is used to describe lifelong developmental disabilities including an inability to communicate with others, interact socially, or fully comprehend the world.
Professor McGrath’s team has previously found a link between low Vitamin D in neonatal blood and an increased risk of schizophrenia.
The study is published in Molecular Psychiatry and is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).