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Could Mom's Iron Deficiency Lead to Autism?

Autism risk linked to low iron in moms
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’ve fallen behind on taking your vitamins lately, a new study suggests you may want to get back on the wagon. Researchers have found new evidence that taking iron supplements in particular may be more beneficial before, during and even after pregnancy than once thought. In fact, it may cut your baby's risk of developing autism.

The study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that moms of kids with autism were less likely to remember taking their iron supplements before and during pregnancy. But before you go drawing any definitive conclusions, the study's authors are quick to note that this is only an association, and not yet a definitive link.

“Even though we found an association, it’s just an association and needs to be replicated,” explained the study’s lead author, Dr. Rebecca J. Schmidt. Speaking with Reuters, she added, “If this is replicated, it will reinforce that women should be following current specific recommendations for iron intake before they get pregnant during pregnancy and during breastfeeding."

In general, though, it seems we all need to get better about taking our vitamins; Schmidt notes that most women just don’t get quite enough iron in their diet on a daily basis, and this could have some pretty big impacts.

"Iron deficiency is pretty common, and even more common among women with metabolic conditions," Schmidt told Science Daily. "However, we want to be cautious and wait until this study has been replicated."

This also isn't the first time a vitamin deficiency has been linked to autism. Low intake of folic acid, or vitamin B, has also been cited as a risk factor over the years. Notably, both folic acid and iron play a huge role in fetal brain development, which is why they are often a vital component of prenatal vitamin supplements.

"Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function," said Schmidt. "All three of these pathways have been associated with autism."

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