New research has suggested not getting enough vitamin D while pregnant could increase the chance of your child having autism.
Autism is used to describe lifelong developmental disabilities that greatly hamper a person’s ability to communicate with others, interact socially or fully comprehend the world. The main areas of difficulty are in social communication, social interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviors and interests.
Research suggested that low vitamin D disrupts brain development
The study, led by researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute, looked at blood samples from more than 4,000 pregnant women and their children. It found pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.
Lead author Professor John McGrath said his research suggested that low vitamin D disrupts brain development.
"Just as taking folate in pregnancy has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, the results of this study suggest that prenatal vitamin D supplements may reduce the incidence of autism," he said.
"Vitamin D is a very safe, cheap, publicly acceptable supplement to take and reducing vitamin D deficiencies is so easy to do," he said.
"Maybe we could prevent serious mental disorders like autism by making sure women have optimal vitamin D during pregnancy."
Vitamin D can be found in some foods but usually comes from exposure to the sun. Professor McGrath said:
"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."
Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the Telethon Kids Institute said the study offers interesting possibilities, but needs to be put into perspective.
"Autism is linked to dozens if not hundreds of different mechanisms which lead to this condition," he said.
"This study gives us an inkling of one of these possible mechanisms but I think before we think about anything else, and that includes treatment studies, we need to see this finding replicated."
Previous research shows Vitamin D during pregnancy is very important for how the baby develops
Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy has previously been linked to many different conditions including schizophrenia, asthma and reduced bone density.
Earlier this year, an Australian study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed vitamin D wasn’t just important during pregnancy but also in the first decade of a child’s life.
Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Institute found evidence of a clear link between a lack of vitamin D in early childhood and allergic disorders such as asthma and eczema.
The UK Government advises everyone take a Vitamin D supplement
It is important to note that the research highlighted in this post was conducted in Australia where vitamin D is more easily obtained through sunlight exposure than in countries in the northern hemisphere such as the UK. The UK government also recommends everyone take a daily vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months, because of the lack of sunlight exposure and because it is difficult to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D from food alone.