Lower intake of iron before and during the pregnancy by mothers aged 35 and above increase the risk of autism in children by five times, new research shows.
Researchers said that this held true even if women have metabolic conditions such as obesity, hyper-tension or diabetes.
Around 1 in 68 American children have been diagnosed with autism and it is more common in boys than girls. The cost of care for a child with autism is estimated to be at least $17,000 more per year. The cost of care of child with severe autism increases to more than $21,000. Overall, it is estimated that total societal cost of caring for children with ASD was over $9 billion in 2011.
In the current study, the researcher found that lower intake of iron level was associated with autism. “The association between lower maternal iron intake and increased autism spectrum disorders (ASD) risk was strongest during breastfeeding,” Rebecca J. Schmidt, an assistant professor from the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, said in a press statement.
The study was conducted in mother-child pairs enrolled in the Northern California-based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study between 2002 and 2009. The participants were mothers of children with autism and mothers of children with typical development.
The researchers assessed the intake of iron by the mothers. They also examined the intake of vitamins, other nutritional supplements and breakfast cereals during the three months prior to through the end of the women’s pregnancies and breastfeeding.
“Iron deficiency and its resultant anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50% of women and their infants,” Schmidt said.
Iron is important for early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism. “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 said.