An international team of researchers may have proven that consumption of certain nutrients during pregnancy lowers the risk of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.
Previous studies have suggested that ASD first develops in the womb, though it’s unclear if the mother’s lifestyle choices (smoking, poor diet) have any sort of effect on the disorder’s likelihood.
Tracking Nutritional Intake
In an attempt to shed some light on this mystery, researchers reviewed nutrient supplementation in 273,107 Swedish mothers who gave birth between 1996 and 2007. While undergoing their first medical examination during pregnancy, the women reported their consumption of folic acid, iron, and multivitamins.
Before arriving at a conclusion, the team adjusted for several factors that might further influence the health of the newborn. They found that the mothers who took multivitamins during the early stages of pregnancy were less likely to have children with autism than mothers who did not take multivitamins.
Consumption of folic acid and/or iron, however, appeared to play no role in making autism more or less likely. The mothers who consumed these two nutrients along with multivitamins were no more likely to have children with autism than mothers who took only multivitamins.
Putting Validity To The Test
It’s unclear what type of multivitamins the mothers consumed as well as how many multivitamins they consumed throughout the entire pregnancy. But the researchers pointed out that they used three advanced analytical methods to maximize validation.
"Together, the three analyses appear to point toward a potential inverse association between multivitamin use with ASD with intellectual disability," they wrote.
The team is now calling for randomized studies to solidify their findings and support “a change in current practice.”
Learning that certain nutrients lower the risk of autism wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, they added, considering the substantial research linking good nutrition during pregnancy with healthy children.
Another New Guideline For Pregnancy?
A separate study published earlier this month may have discovered yet another highly effective nutritional guideline for expecting women.
After examining the eating habits of 5,109 mothers, researchers led by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln found that the women who ate less meat and poultry were more likely to have children who went on to abuse alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana during adolescence.
According to Science Daily, many of the mothers of children who went on to abuse these substances possessed functional variants of the gene that encodes a type of vitamin B12 protein, possibly due to the lack of meat in their diets. This suggests that a vitamin B12 deficiency in the mothers is to blame for their kids’ behavior.
"The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes recommendations for healthy vegetarian eating patterns,” Dr. Hibbeln wrote. “Our study points to the need to investigate potential health impacts, and solutions, for some women who choose to restrict certain food categories during pregnancy.”
Future studies might determine whether meat or simply an increase in vitamin B12 on its own makes a child more or less likely to abuse substances over time.