Prenatal Vitamins and Autism Spectrum Disorders

In a recent study, Dr. Rebecca J. Schmidt and colleagues suggest that their research findings reveal preliminary evidence that consuming prenatal vitamins during the three months prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy may decrease the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), even for mothers and children with specific genetic predispositions. While it is likely that both genetic and environmental factors play a causal role in the development of ASD, little is known about how these factors interact. For this reason, Dr. Schmidt and colleagues set out to investigate correlations between the consumption of preconception and prenatal vitamins and the development of ASD, while also examining the involvement of various genetic predispositions.

Participants included 278 children with typical development, 288 children with autistic disorder, and 141 children with ASD, ages 24 to 60 months. Via telephone interviews, mothers were questioned retroactively about their consumption of vitamin supplements during the three months prior to conception and throughout the gestational period. Furthermore, blood samples were collected from the families of 232 participants with typical development and 238 participants with autistic disorder. Maternal, paternal, and child blood samples were tested for various one-carbon metabolism gene variations, which have been found in previous research studies to be associated with ASD.

The results revealed that mothers who consumed prenatal vitamins during the three months prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy were significantly less likely to have a child with ASD than those who did not. The finding also revealed:

  • a correlation between the risk of ASD and the frequency of prenatal vitamin intake during the three months prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy, with greater frequency indicating reduced risk
  • no correlation between the development of ASD and prenatal vitamin intake during the second through ninth month of gestation
  • no correlation between the development of ASD and regular multivitamin intake at the approximate time of conception

Moreover, significant correlations were found between the risk of ASD and prenatal vitamin intake during the three months prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy for specific gene variations, with a greater risk of ASD identified for mothers who did not report taking prenatal vitamins during this period. These gene variations included maternal MTHFR 677 TT and CBS rs234715 GT + TT, and child COMT 472 AA genotypes. On the contrary, an opposite effect was identified for the child MTHFR 677 TT genotype.

Dr. Schmidt and colleagues maintain that their finding provides preliminary evidence that taking prenatal vitamins three months prior to conception may reduce the risk of ASD, even for mothers and children with specific genetic predispositions. These findings appear to support the notion that both genetic and environmental factors play a causal role in the development of ASD. If replicable, this study offers a fairly simple precaution that women, who are planning for a pregnancy, can take in order to reduce the likelihood of having a child with ASD. Further research exploring the effect of prenatal vitamins on the development of ASD is warranted.

References

Schmidt, R. J., Hansen, R. L., Hartiala, J., Allayee, H., Schmidt, L. C., Tancredi, D. J., … Hertz-Picciotto, I. (2011). Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism. Epidemiology, 22,476-485. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31821d0e30

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