Can Prenatal Vitamins Reduce Autism Recurrence in Families?

Pregnant mothers can reduce the risk that their child may be born with autism by simply taking prenatal vitamins.  This is the remarkable conclusion of a new study that looked at families who would be particularly susceptible to autism.  In the study, researchers from the University of California (Davis) conclude that prenatal vitamins might be able to reduce risk of autism recurrence. 

Specifically, the study seems to conclude that the children of mothers who took prenatal vitamins within the first month of pregnancy were at 50 percent lower risk for receiving an eventual diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder.  Furthermore, those who were diagnosed as such had “significantly lower” symptom severity with higher cognitive thinking scores overall. 

The study followed 241 children whose older siblings had received a diagnosis for autism, meaning that these younger siblings were at a higher static risk for the disorder.  The research evaluated these children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.  

Roughly 25 percent of these children went on to receive an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.  However, of those mothers who had taken prenatal vitamins within that first month, only about 14 percent of their children went on to develop autism, which is more than half the 32.7 percent of younger siblings among those mothers who did not take the vitamins. 

According to study co-author, Rebecca Schmidt, “In highly genetically susceptible families where they’re already affected by autism, our study suggests there might be a way to mitigate that risk.” 

But while the study certainly suggest that prenatal vitamins may provide some kind of protection from autism development, it is still not quite clear how or why.  The UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences assistant professor goes on to say, “We know that some of the nutrients in prenatal vitamins, like folic acid, are really critical during brain development and it’s also critical for many of these pathways that might influence autism risk.”

It should also be noted that the research found the mothers who took prenatal vitamins within the first month of their pregnancy tended to be better educated. They were also more likely to own their homes and have private health insurance.  Perhaps most importantly, these mothers also tended to have a planned pregnancy, whereas those who did not take prenatal vitamins were found more likely to have unplanned pregnancies.  These are all additional factors that must be weighed to understand the full scope of what this study implicates about prenatal vitamins and autism risk.