Early Intake of Prenatal Vitamins and Autism Risk

Summary
The actual causes and factors that are associated with autism are not clearly known. The current study explored the fact that women who did not take vitamins three months before pregnancy were at a higher risk of giving birth to a child with autism. The results showed that women who did not consume the vitamin supplements three months before and during the first month of pregnancy were at a higher risk of giving birth to autistic children. Some genetic changes that enhanced these vitamin deficiencies were also found to increase the risk in women who did not take the supplements.

Introduction
Autism is a disorder that manifests in toddlerhood where the child is typically socially withdrawn and has difficulty in communicating. It is a spectrum of disorders that vary in severity in each of the sufferers. In the United States, one out of 110 children is autistic and the number of affected children is on the rise. While some studies point toward a genetic link to the disease, other studies find that certain nutritional deficiencies may be linked to autism. Some evidence also shows that there are some genetic changes in the handling and utilization of certain vitamins in autistic children. Specifically, these vitamins are B vitamins and folic acid. There are also studies that show that short gaps between two pregnancies, often associated with poor maternal nutrition, may lead to autism in the second child. This study attempted to examine the association between autism and maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy.

Methodology
* For this study, families residing in Northern California between 2003 and 2009 were recruited.
* The families had children with ages between two and five years. Of the participants being recruited for this study, 288 children were autistic while 141 children had normal development.
* Risk associations of autism with the mother’s intake of vitamins three months before and during the first few months of pregnancy were calculated.
* The risk associations of autism with defects in certain genes in the mother or the child that impaired their capability to utilize and metabolize certain vitamins like folic acid were also calculated. These genes included MTHFR, COMT, MTRR, BHMT, FOLR2, CBS and TCN2.

Data/Results/Key findings
* The results showed that mothers who did not take folic acid and other vitamin supplements three months before and a month into their pregnancy were more likely to have an autistic child.
* It was noted that only 33 percent mothers took vitamin supplements prior to their pregnancy.
* It was found that certain genetic changes in the genes, which were being studied in the mothers and children along with lack of vitamin supplementation, were linked to a greater risk of autism in the child. In particular, the COMT genotype was seen to contribute to a higher risk of autism.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors admit that since the information regarding intake of the vitamins and folic acid was self reported by the mothers, there could be a bias. Many mothers may not have reported their actual vitamin intake before and during pregnancy. The authors also agree that complete dietary information of the mothers before and during pregnancy was not assessed in this study. This meant that the mothers might have been taking the vitamins in the form of food itself. The authors suggest that more studies are needed to further explore the association between nutrition and autism.

Conclusion
In summary, this study shows that taking folic acid and other vitamin supplementation before and during pregnancy may protect the child against autism. This is more likely in mothers and children who have a faulty genetic change that prevents them from utilizing the vitamins adequately. This study also reveals that the COMT genotype specifically raises the risk of autism in the child, especially when coupled with lack of vitamin supplementation. The authors suggest that more studies are necessary to explore the three-way connection between genetic variations in the mother and child, lack of vitamin supplementation, and risk of autism in the child.

For More Information:
Prenatal Vitamins, One-carbon Metabolism Gene Variants, and Risk for Autism
Publication Journal: Epidemiology, July 2011
By Rebecca Schmidt; Robin Hansen; University of California Davis School of Medicine, Davis, California

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.



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