Is There a Link Between Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy and Autism?

Children have a five times higher risk of developing autism if their mother had an iron deficiency, combined with an older age and other risk factors during her pregnancy, new research from the UC Davis MIND Institute shows.

"Iron is crucial to early brain development," Rebecca J. Schmidt, an assistant professor at UC Davis and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute said in a statement.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that this risk was especially associated with women who had a low iron intake and had a metabolic condition like obesity hypertension or diabetes, or were 35 years old or older.

Forty to 50 percent of pregnant women have an iron deficiency, Schmidt said in the statement. Even so, it is linked to crucial brain development in three specific pathways that have been shown to be associated with autism, the study explains.

Each mother in the study had her daily iron intake via vitamins, supplements, and fortified breakfast cereals examined, "three months prior to through the end of the women's pregnancies and breastfeeding," the news release explained.

This is the first study of its kind and Schmidt stressed the importance of taking this information with a grain of salt as it needs to be replicated again in larger scale groups.

"In the meantime the takeaway message for women is do what your doctor recommends," she said in the statement. "Take vitamins throughout pregnancy, and take the recommended daily dosage. If there are side effects, talk to your doctor about how to address them."

Learn how your doctor will confirm your pregnancy—and what else will happen at your first prenatal visit.

Photo of pregnant woman with vitamins courtesy of Shutterstock.

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