Taking prenatal vitamins in the pregnancy-planning stage may help reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders, according to a study published in the journal Epidemiology of 700 families with children ages 2 to 5.
The mothers who said they took a daily prenatal vitamin during the three months before conceiving and the first month of pregnancy were only about half as likely to have a child with autism compared with women who didn't take the supplements.
Prenatal vitamins are very high in folic acid and other B vitamins that nourish a developing brain, says study author Irva Hertz-Picciotto, M.D., chief of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine. "A healthy diet may not be enough," she says.
This is the first study to look at this associatioin, but "the strong and robust" finding, if confirmed, gives families with a history of autism an opportunity to help prevent the disorder in a subsequent pregnancy.
Women with a genetic mutation that raises the risk of autism may benefit most. "Families have been asking how to reduce the risk, and science hasn't had much to offer them, but this is something people can do," she says. "It simply requires planning—or taking vitamins because you're the childbearing age and could get pregnant." —Shari Roan