New research led by Drexel University shows that women who took multivitamins during pregnancy are less likely to have a child with autism and a co-occurring intellectual disability.
A research team analyzed over 10 years of data collected in Stockholm, Sweden and found that children whose mothers took multivitamins during pregnancy were 30 percent less likely to have both autism and a co-occurring intellectual disability. However, the same results were not found for children with autism who had no co-occurring intellectual disability.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, took data from 2001 to 2011. Information was collected from children who were between the ages of 4 and 15 by the end of 2011 and had lived in Stockholm for at least four years. Siblings were also included in this study to rule out the possible effect of heritability or other unforeseen behaviors that could factor into the development of autism.
“A potential link between supplement use during pregnancy and autism is intriguing because it suggests a possible avenue for risk reduction,” Brian Lee told DrexelNow. Lee is an associate professor at the Dornsife School of Public Health.
Lee is also a fellow in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and the senior author of the study published in BMJ, previously the British Medical Journal. Lee and his team, which included researchers from the University of Bristol and the Karolinska Institute, set out to better understand how diet during pregnancy affects the risk of having a child with autism.
“There have been more studies in recent years about varied aspects of diet during pregnancy and autism risk involving multivitamins, iron, folic acid, vitamin D and more, but the evidence is still inconclusive,” Elizabeth DeVilbiss told DrexelNow. DeVilbiss is the first author on the study and a recent graduate of the Dornsife School of Public Health.
As part of this study, the effects of supplemental folic acid and iron on autism risk were also examined. However, neither of these seemed to have an effect on autism risk.
“We cannot rule out potential contributions by iron and folic acid. Diet during pregnancy is complicated and there are important factors we can’t assess with our data, such as dietary intake, dose and timing. This is clearly an area for future work,” DeVilbiss told DrexelNow.
This study provides groundwork for future studies to try and better understand the specifics of what could increase autism risk. There are many factors and variables at play, and more research could help shed light on how diet affects autism risk.
“If there is a causal relationship, we also need to understand whether there is a critical window for exposure, and what specific nutrients and amounts may be required for protection,” DeVilbiss told DrexelNow.