Every pregnant woman’s basic concern is what she can do to ensure her baby is healthy. According to new research, taking iron supplements may help in reducing the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
It was found that women who gave birth to autistic children were less likely to have taken iron supplements before and during pregnancy than women whose children seemed to be developing normally.
The study also discovered that women who conceived at or after the age of 35 years, and had low iron intake, increased their risk of having a child with autism by five percent. Women with obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes also stood at this increased risk.
For all participants, having a healthy amount of dietary and supplemental iron appeared to generally reduce the risk of autism, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social deficits, language impairments and repetitive behaviours.
"While the study needs to be replicated, it reinforces the current practice of taking the recommended dose of pregnancy vitamins and folic acid when pregnant," said Rebecca Schmidt, lead study author and assistant professor in the department of public health sciences at the University of California, Davis.
Iron deficiency, also called anaemia is a common problem during pregnancy and almost 40-50 percent of pregnancies are affected by this nutrient deficiency. If a person develops iron deficiency in early childhood itself, they may have an impaired thinking, motor development, social engagement and language development.
Previous work by the same researchers and others has noted an association between iron levels and autism, Schmidt said. Children with autism often have low iron levels, which could mean that they absorb or metabolize iron inefficiently, she said.
Autism is associated with brain development, development of a sheath around nerve cells (myelination), and immune function. Iron is crucial for all these functions and hence is linked with autism.
The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
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