Taking Prenatal Vitamins Early Into, or Before, Pregnancy May Reduce Risk of Autism

A new study has found that women who take prenatal vitamins immediately before and during the first month of pregnancy drastically reduced their risk of having a child with autism. California researchers claim that women who start a vitamin regimen early in their pregnancies appear to reduce their likelihood of having a child with autism by nearly half. In contrast, women who do not report taking vitamins early and have a high-risk genetic makeup are seven times as likely to have an autistic child. Study authors describe the findings as “strong and robust.”  This is the first study to suggest a concrete step women can take to reduce the risk of having a child with autism. “It is widely accepted that autism spectrum disorders are the result of multiple factors, that it would be extremely rare to find someone who had a single cause for this behavioral syndrome,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor and chief of the division of environmental and occupational health in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine. “Nevertheless, previous work on genes has generally ignored the possibility that genes may act in concert with environmental exposures,” she explained. Hertz-Picciotto and her colleagues speculated that folic acid and the other B vitamins in prenatal supplements may protect against deficits in early fetal brain development.  Folate is known to be critical to neurodevelopment. The study was conducted by pulling data from about 700 California families who had two or five-year-old children, with or without autism.  The researchers inquired mothers as to whether they took prenatal vitamins or other supplements during pregnancy, and when they took them. “The good news is that if this finding is replicated, it will provide an inexpensive, relatively simple evidence-based action that women can take to reduce risks for their child, which is to take prenatal vitamins as early as possible in a pregnancy and even when planning for pregnancy,” Hertz-Picciotto said.