Multivitamins in pregnancy may be linked to lower autism risk in children

October 4, 2017, British Medical Journal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Taking multivitamins during early pregnancy may be associated with a reduced risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children compared with mothers who do not take multivitamins, finds a study published in The BMJ today.

The researchers stress that their findings cannot establish cause and effect, but say they raise questions about a possible association that warrant further investigation.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes a range of conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person's social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. It's estimated that about 1 in every 100 people in the UK has ASD. More boys are diagnosed with the condition than girls.

Research indicates that ASD most likely develops in the womb and that a mother's diet during pregnancy could have an influence. But results from previous studies have been inconsistent, suggesting that other unmeasured factors (confounding), such as a mother's overall health and lifestyle, could also play a role.

So an international research team set out to assess whether nutrient supplementation during pregnancy is associated with reduced risk of ASD, with and without intellectual disability.

They applied three to a sample of 273,107 mother-child pairs living in Stockholm, Sweden. The sample was restricted to children who were 4 to 15 years of age by December 31 2011 and were born between 1996 and 2007.

Women reported their use of , iron, and supplements at their first antenatal visit and cases of child ASD were identified from national registers.

After adjusting for several potentially influencing factors in both mothers and children, the researchers found that multivitamin use, with or without additional iron and/or folic acid, was associated with a lower likelihood of child ASD with intellectual disability relative to mothers who did not use folic acid, iron, and multivitamins.

There was no consistent evidence that either iron or folic acid use were associated with a of ASD.

The results of the various analyses seemed to be consistent with each other, say the authors, suggesting that the association between multivitamins and ASD might not be fully explained by confounding.

They point to several study limitations, such as the potential for confounding and difficulty assessing type, timing and dose of supplements. However strengths included the relatively large population-based sample size and the advanced analytical methods used to gauge the robustness of findings.

"Together, the three analyses appear to point toward a potential inverse association between multivitamin use with ASD with ," say the authors.

Given the current understanding and strength of evidence supporting the importance of nutritional supplementation during pregnancy, "it is impossible to imagine that these results, on their own, should change current practice," they write. However, they say these findings "raise questions that warrant investigation" and call for verification in randomised studies "before recommending a change to current practice."

Explore further: Study points to link between antidepressant use in pregnancy and autism in children

More information: Antenatal nutritional supplementation and autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm youth cohort: population based cohort study, www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j4273

Related Stories

Study points to link between antidepressant use in pregnancy and autism in children

July 19, 2017
Children exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy seem to be at a slightly higher risk of autism than children of mothers with psychiatric disorders who were not treated with antidepressants during pregnancy, finds a study ...

Psychological benefits for kids when mums keep taking folic acid

May 4, 2017
Children's emotional intelligence improved if mums take folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy.

No statistically significant risk of ID in children from mothers using antidepressants

July 12, 2017
A study published by JAMA Psychiatry reports no evidence of an association between intellectual disability in children and mothers who took antidepressant medication during pregnancy when other mitigating factors, such as ...

Folic acid may mitigate autism risk from pesticides

September 8, 2017
Researchers at UC Davis and other institutions have shown that mothers who take recommended amounts of folic acid around conception might reduce their children's pesticide-related autism risk.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements for mums-to-be are needless expense

July 11, 2016
Multivitamin and mineral supplements, often promoted to pregnant women as a means of giving their child the best possible start in life, are unlikely to be needed by most mums- to-be and are an unnecessary expense, concludes ...

Recommended for you

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health

August 17, 2018
Eating carbohydrates in moderation seems to be optimal for health and longevity, suggests new research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.