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Vitamin D Deficiency During Pregnancy May Cause Autism

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An international study led by a team at the University of Queensland in Australia has found a connection between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy with autism. The study drew on a sample of some 4,200 pregnant women and children in the Netherlands.

“Based on the growing body of research linking gestational vitamin D deficiency with altered brain development, this common exposure is a candidate modifiable risk factor for autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) and autism-related traits,” the team writes in their finds published through the journal Molecular Psychiatry. “The association between gestational vitamin D deficiency and a continuous measure of autism-related traits at [about] 6 years … was determined in a large population-based cohort of mothers and their children”.

“This study provides further evidence that low vitamin D is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Professor John McGrath of the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute, notes The Guardian. “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.”

“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,” McGrath stated, according to the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute.

“There are likely dozens, if not hundreds, of different mechanisms that can lead to autism,” Professor Andrew Whitehouse of the Telethon Kids Institute added, notes The Guardian. “Now this study gives us an inkling of one possible mechanism but before we think about anything we need to see a replication of this finding. … What we know is that vitamin D during pregnancy is very important for how the baby develops.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism occurs in about one in 68 children, and is 4.5 times more likely in men than women. 

Sources: Molecular Psychiatry, The Guardian, The University of Queensland Brain Institute, CDC / Photo credit: Andrew Seaman/Flickr

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