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Mothers with Autistic Children less likely to have taken Iron Supplements

Update Date: Sep 22, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

A new study found that mothers who have autistic children were less likely to have taken iron supplements before and during pregnancy. The team from the University of California, Davis MIND Institute reported that iron levels could play a role in the development of autism.

"Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants," Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute, said. "Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism."

In this study, the researchers examined data on mother-child pairs with and without autism taken from the Northern California-based Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. This study, which lasted from 2002 to 2009, included information on the mother's intake of vitamins and nutritional supplements as well as their breakfast cereal consumption. In terms of iron, specifically, the researchers collected information on the mothers' daily intake, frequency and dosages as well as the brands of the supplements that they took.

The researchers found that low iron intake in mothers that were 35-years-old or older was tied to a five-times increased risk of autism in the child. This five-fold greater risk of autism was also seen in women with low iron intake who had metabolic conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

"The association between lower maternal iron intake and increased ASD risk was strongest during breastfeeding, after adjustment for folic acid intake," Schmidt said according to the press release. "Further, the risk associated with low maternal iron intake was much greater when the mother was also older and had metabolic conditions during her pregnancy."

The researchers cautioned that more studies should be conducted. In the meantime, women who are pregnant or looking to get pregnant should take the recommended daily value of iron set by their doctors.

"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.

The study, "Maternal intake of supplemental iron and risk for autism spectrum disorders," was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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