Prenatal vitamins markedly lower autism risk, according to Israeli researchers

A four-year study of tens of thousands of Israeli children has concluded that mothers who take folic acid and multivitamins prior to and during pregnancy are at a significantly lower risk of giving birth to children with autism than women who do not.

Professor Stephen Levine of the University of Haifa’s community mental-health department led a study from 2003 to 2007 investigating the prescription data for the mothers of 45,300 Israeli children. By 2015, 572 of these children were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Mothers who took folic acid, multivitamins or both prior to pregnancy were 61 percent less likely to give birth to an autistic child, according to the study. When women took the supplements during pregnancy, that number jumped to 73 percent. The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

Vitamin deficiencies in mothers have long been associated with neural defects, with pregnant women advised to take folic acid and multivitamins. But research has not been conclusive as to whether the supplements can affect autism risk.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Levine emphasized that “factors before pregnancy may be a target for further scrutiny to reduce the likelihood of autism.”

Autism currently affects one out of every 160 children in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

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