Prenatal Vitamins May Help Protect Against Autism

This week, in the New York Times, there was an interesting article about emerging research which suggests that prenatal vitamins could potentially help reduce the risk of Autism.  Over the past decade, the rate of Autism has been on the rise and it is still unclear why this is the case.  There has been speculation that it could be related to many different things (including vaccinations and food coloring), but the research has been inconclusive and very controversial, so this continues to be a hot topic.

However, a new report published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology provides some hope that researchers may have shed some light onto the issue and found a step that can be taken to reduce the risk of having a child with Autism.  That step is to take a prenatal vitamin rich in folic acid prior to becoming pregnant and during the beginning stages of pregnancy.

The study took a look at the genetics from the mothers of 432 children with autism or autism spectrum disorders and compared them with the mothers of 278 children with normal development.  Researchers then took a look at the mothers’ vitamin consumption before and during pregnancy, and found that mothers who did not take prenatal vitamins and had a gene variant that affected how they metabolize Folate, were seven times more likely to have a child with autism.

In fact, the researchers from this article suggest that taking prenatal vitamins during this time period may reduce the risk of autism by approximately 40%.

Studies like this, which look back at patterns of a population, are not controlled studies and are not able to determine a cause/effect relationship.  However, they do help to recognize possible patterns.  While research still needs to be done in this area, it would be prudent for women of a child bearing age to take a vitamin rich in folic acid (at least 400 mcg) as a protective measure.  After all, this has been recommended for decades to help prevent neural tube defects.  So, this is not a new recommendation, rather an added potential benefit to an old recommendation.