Low Iron Supplementation During Pregnancy Linked to Autism Risk

A new study has found an association between women with low iron intake during pregnancy and the likelihood of their children developing autism (autism spectrum disorder). Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the research looked at data from 866 mother-child pairs enrolled in the California-based CHARGE study from 2003 to 2009; 520 mothers had children with autism, while the remaining 346 mothers did not have children with autism and served as the control group. Researchers tracked maternal iron intake before, during, and after pregnancy, including the frequency, dose, and brands of supplements and cereals the mothers used. Here’s what the researchers discovered:

  • The association between low iron intake and autism risk was strongest during the breastfeeding period.
  • Mothers of children with autism were less likely to take iron-specific supplements and had a lower average intake of iron (51.7 mg/day) than the control group (57.1 mg/day).
  • If the mother was 35 or older at the time of birth, or had a metabolic condition like obesity or diabetes, low iron intake correlated to an almost five-times greater risk of autism.

This is the first study to examine the relationship between iron intake during pregnancy and the risk of having a child with autism. The findings are especially important because iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, and affects 40-50% of women. So what’s the bottom line? According to the lead author of the study, women should make sure to take vitamin supplements throughout their pregnancy in consultation with a doctor.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology

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