Analyzing more than a quarter-million mother-child pairs in Sweden, researchers found a link – but not cause and effect proof – between multivitamin use and risk of developing autism.
“Multivitamin use with or without added iron or folic acid was associated with a lower likelihood of child autism with intellectual disability, compared with mothers who did not use supplements,” said lead researcher Elizabeth DeVilbiss. The odds of autism in the multivitamin group were 30% lower, added DeVilbiss, a Ph.D. graduate in epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health in Philadelphia.
Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of conditions that affect social interaction, communication, interests and behavior. It’s estimated that about 1 in every 68 people in the United States has some form of autism, boys more often than girls.
Experts believe autism is caused by genetic and environmental factors. It most likely starts in the womb, and the mother’s diet during pregnancy might have an influence, DeVilbiss said. However, DeVilbiss said it’s too early to recommend multivitamins specifically for lowering autism risk.
Because the study was observational, it’s possible that women who take a multivitamin during pregnancy might engage in other healthy behaviors that account for the reduced autism risk, DeVilbiss said.
For the study, DeVilbiss and her colleagues collected data on 273, 107 mother and child pairs form Stockholm. The children were born between 1996 and 2007 and were followed at least to age 4 and to 15 in some cases. Mothers reported their use of folic acid, iron and multivitamin supplements at their first prenatal visit. Cases of child autism spectrum disorder were identified using national registers.
The research team took into account other factors that might influence the health of mothers and children, and said only multivitamin use appeared to explain the difference in autism cases. Evidence that iron or folic acid lowered the risk of autism was not consistent, DeVilbiss said.
However, the study may suffer from several limitations, the researchers said. For one, it was not known which supplements the women took, the timing or the doses.
The report was published Oct. 4 in the medical journal the BMJ.
Despite the limitations of this study, I have already been advising women to take a multiple to reduce the potential risk of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). I also recommend they take 5-methyltetrafolate (5-MTHF) as well, the bio-available form of folic acid.
I suspect the inconsistency the study found in the benefits of folic acid are tied to common genetic mutations that limit or prohibit the conversion of folic acid to 5-MTHF. As noted in previous blogs, these mutations affect about a third of the general population in the United States.
Although the study did not record brand or dosage, I have never seen a multivitamin that did not contain some form of folic acid. Iron however, is often left out of multivitamins because it is poorly absorbed and therefore commonly creates constipation.
The Bottom Line:
If you a woman of child-bearing age, start taking a multivitamin and some additional 5-MTHF. Studies have linked this simple step to significant reductions in many childhood diseases.
Source: October 5, 2017 National Institutes of Health