The internet is flooded this week with reports on a new study linking low iron intake during pregnancy to an increased risk of autism. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute released findings that children whose mothers did not take supplementary iron during pregnancy, particularly mothers over the age of 35 with certain metabolic conditions, had a five times greater risk of developing autism.
Researchers analyzed data of mothers and children, both with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD) gathered by the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study based in Northern California from 2001-2009. The information included the mothers’ diets and nutritional supplement consumption.
“Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, are the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute. “Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism.”
It is important for mothers to understand that the purpose of this and similar studies is not to blame them for their child’s autism, but to further understand how ASD is caused, can be treated, and maybe even prevented. It is stressful enough to be a parent of an autistic child without feeling personally responsible for causing the disorder.
There are many possible causes for autism, from genetic to environmental, but expectant mothers will no doubt want to reduce any possible risk for their children to develop ASD. Prenatal vitamins and iron-rich foods are always recommended for pregnant women, along with a litany of other dietary retrictions.
“Take vitamins throughout pregnancy, and take the recommended daily dosage. If there are side effects, talk to your doctor about how to address them,” Schmidt concluded.