Taking vitamin D supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy may prevent autism traits in newborns, according to a new study conducted on mice.

Pregnant vitamin D autism
Credit: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock

According to a new study out of Australia, moms who take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy may help prevent autism traits from showing up in their kiddos. These findings build on earlier research that found pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels at 20 weeks were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by age 6.

Led by researcher Professor Darryl Eyles from the University of Queensland, the study found that pregnant female mice treated with active vitamin D in their first trimester produced offspring that did not develop traits associated with autism, providing further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development.

"Our study used the most widely accepted developmental model of autism in which affected mice behave abnormally and show deficits in social interaction, basic learning, and stereotyped behaviors," explained Eyles. "We found that pregnant females treated with active vitamin D in the equivalent of the first trimester of pregnancy produced offspring that did not develop these deficits."

Recent human studies also showed a link between pregnant women with low vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits, the researchers said, adding that early dietary supplementation with vitamin D may open new avenues for the prevention of neurodevelopmental disorders.

But while vitamin D is crucial for maintaining healthy bones, according to Dr. Wei Luan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus.

"Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol—the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women—is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream," Dr. Luan explained. "This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.