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Preventing Autism with Vitamins (?)

By June 15, 2011

The New York Times just came out with this headline:

Prenatal Vitamins May Ward Off Autism

Who knew it was that easy?!

Actually, while the headline is impressive, the actual study is small and preliminary.  Here's what the article tells us:

In mothers and children with gene variants that affect folate metabolism, not taking prenatal vitamins before conception was associated with an up to sevenfold increase in the risk of autism, the researchers found. Prenatal vitamins are rich in folate.

"Taking prenatal vitamin supplements even before conception is a concrete step concerned parents can take," said Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the study's senior author and principal investigator of the Charge study.

It certainly can't hurt you or your unborn child to take your vitamins.  And of course it's a good idea no matter what.    As an autism mom who not only took prenatal vitamins for months before conception but also faithfully attended prenatal fitness classes AND lamaze training, and had her baby with no issues in a hospital setting at full term, I can only say - here's hoping it works for you!

June 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm
(1) Sandy says:

” not taking prenatal vitamins before conception ”
I read that to mean it may make a difference if a mother is taking vitamins prior to knowing she’s pregnant, than to start vitamins only when she finds out she is pregnant.

I can say for myself I did not take any sort of vitamins prior to pregnancy or after but during they switch to a different RX brand which made me very motion-sick, so I had to go back on the previous RX. It could also have something to do with type of vitamin brands.

June 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm
(2) c says:

My son has autism and I took prenatal vitamins for three months before conception and everyday of my pregnancy. I also had a complication free pregnancy and delivery. The New York Times article really annoyed me. Mothers of children on the spectrum are probably reading it and feeling terrible if they didn’t take vitamins. The last thing any mom needs is to have loads of guilt piled on them about a theory that probably won’t pan out. Sometimes I wish more research would be put into treatments and educational interventions rather then the endless search for autism’s causes. My guess is that it will turn out that the causes are very complex and perhaps not things that are preventable.

June 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm
(3) Khat says:

Well said.

June 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm
(4) Dee says:

Sadly, this study released a few weeks ago greatly affected me. My son DOES has the MTHFR mutation and is also in fragile X permutation grey zone (actually it’s very complicated and the opposite of 200plus copies) and I did not take the vitamins because they made me so very sick… So I absolutely see what I did during his pregnancy as part of our story and I feel absolutely guilty about it. This is partly explained by my lion-agressivenssness toward his diagnosis almost 12 months ago. I am relentlessless with my research, implementation and investigation because I know, in my heart of hearts, that I contributed to his diagnosis. Lots of people post on this blog but I believe that I am a somewhat regular with a younger kid (going to be three next month). The newest research has both aided me and implicated me… I accept the work I need to do… I accept my son, who he is, who I believe he would be without all of the complicated factors… I love him, I have fun being with him… He is charming and funny and incredibly smart… But I inherently know that his condition- the out moments, the regression, and autism is a part of (evidence-based, as the saying goes) a complicated gene and environmental make-up that I am mostly responsible for.

June 16, 2011 at 8:30 am
(5) autism says:

Dee – I am so sorry that you are feeling such a weight of guilt. The reality is that having a child is a risky business, but there are risks across the board. If your son is loved, well-cared-for, and supported – and he is – he is among the luckier children in the entire world!

As regards this study (and many others), it’s important to remember that (1) it’s just one study; (2) it’s an association, not a cause; (3) even if it is replicated and found to be accurate, there are still plenty of people (including me) who took their prenatal vitamins for months before conceiving and still wound up with a child on the spectrum.

Given the studies I’ve seen over the years, it’s easy to find a zillion ways in which we as a race, a society, a culture, etc may have gone wrong. But being a loving, caring parent can never be a bad choice.


June 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm
(6) Val says:

fragile X is genetic you did not make Autism in your child.

June 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm
(7) Sandy says:

I took the idea many years ago that I didn’t do a gene pool prior to conception. I had no idea what may come of being pregnant. Some people do genetics prior to conceiving, I’m just not one of those people. I did what research said at the time was right, and I didn’t out right do anything to harm myself or unborn child. I refuse to put blame on myself for anything I could not had controlled or predicted. There’s a certain percentage my child could had been stillborn, born with any number of defects, could had died in a car accident. Reality is, is the only way to avoid all possible things, was never to have kids at all. I have no idea why I became so motion sick over a change in vitamin brands; maybe my unborn son was trying to tell me something…… Studies like these often will generate guilt however it’s still a quest for answers of autism. Studies like these may one day prevent autism, not suggest the mothers are responsible.

June 16, 2011 at 11:29 pm
(8) barbaraj says:

There has been information concerning vitamins around for awhile, and no one can prove that taking them helped, only that not taking them didn’t resolve the deficiencies caused by many, many environmental exposures, from aspirin to pesticides. My mother did not take them, because she claims that in the sixties, having elfine features was the result of too much vitamin a and d. Very few among her generation took vitamins, it wasn’t a part of their health “ethic”, and they didn’t have the crazy amount of disabled children that we are experiencing today. Hey , maybe one day they will say..well vitamin a interupted xyandz ..really we don’t know. I did find this interesting..

June 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm
(9) barbaraj says:


hmm..and I’m pretty sure the original mention was concerning folate….day to day..different info?

June 17, 2011 at 9:54 am
(10) barbaraj says:

I forgot the message.. Dr. Martha M. Werler and her colleagues at Boston University report in the journal Epidemiology that
the addition of folate pills did nothing.. natural folate and fortified foods rose as cases of NT defects fell…and no one mentioned “abortion options”..does that fit into a reduction of birth defects?
” there was no evidence of a further benefit when women took folic acid in pill form — whether in a multivitamin or a single supplement — around the time of conception. The findings “raise the possibility” that in the era of fortified grains, folic acid supplements offer no added protection against spina bifida, Dr. Martha M. Werler and her colleagues at Boston University report in the journal Epidemiology. That would stand in contrast to current recommendations for women of childbearing age. Experts advise them to get 400 micrograms of folic acid per day — before conception”

June 17, 2011 at 10:13 am
(11) barbaraj says:

To “folate or not”…very difficult question…on one hand we all know that at some stage of pregnancy the fetus is protected by folate ..yet we didn’t consider folate as a cancer promoter (and it seems to be)..again we find it protects against bpa damage( that should be a good thing,right)..because BPA can cause obesity and diabetes in mice, don’t worry about humans, bad mothering causes obesity in humans…ah..but then there is something about folate and depletion of b12..sooo many good with the bad issues we probably should be very careful!! An exercise in “don’t take the advice of researchers too seriously”…maybe?


June 17, 2011 at 10:31 am
(12) Malia says:

I personally have a list of about 40 possible causes for my son’s autism. It didn’t take my vitamins “perfectly” but I did take them reasonably regularly, pretty much the same way my sister took them. She and I share the same genetics. She had five children, all healthy, none autistic. I had one. Was it the father’s genes that made the difference?

I find many of these studies less than helpful… and not just when it comes to autism related issues. It seems to me that we’re now a society that runs like herded cattle from pill to pill and the constant premature release of all these “findings” tends to just accelerate this issue. Our elderly are on so many meds, they can’t keep track of them. Many of our middle-aged are on nearly as many, and many of our children are popping pills like candies.

June 18, 2011 at 10:33 am
(13) barbaraj says:

I will tell my daughter “do not take your vitamins…do not drink bottled water…do not teach in a sprayed school environment or coach on a dandelion free field…do not buy furniture with “stain proofing”, or carpet with anti-stain or formaldehyde chemicals added…do NOT use phenols or airfresheners to clear the air..try to eat organic produce and grass fed beef..do not take nsaids or tylenol or give them to your babies..and demand full disclosure on contents both active and inert, both necessary and contaminant of anything you inject into your child…Yeah Malia..I guess I could go on to include about fifty on my list ,as well. It’s a pretty dirty world we live in. And while people say, you can’t worry about everything, I believe you can and maybe should.

June 18, 2011 at 11:11 am
(14) autism says:

But… Barbara! your daughter would have to live in a bubble to KNOW she is avoiding all those things in every location she enters for 9 months (plus all the time during which she’s “trying” and doesn’t know if she’s pregnant).

And if she suddenly notices that the park where she’s picnicking is “dandelion free,” or she hears from her friend that “that chair your sitting in was covered in juice yesterday, thank goodness we stain proofed it” she’ll panic!

Honestly, we have no idea which, if any, of these things is likely to cause birth defects with normal use. And we sure don’t know which is likely to HAVE ALREADY CAUSED issues with sperm or eggs during your daughter’s lifetime or her husband’s!

Trying to “prevent” birth defects, IMO, is like trying to hold water in your cupped hands. It may work, a little, for a short time… but in the long run unless you’re really ready to withdraw from the world altogether, you may have to notice that risk a part of daily life.

And to be honest, again IMO, you take as much risk with your child’s life when you pack him into the car for multiple trips a day as you when you expose him to a low level of environmental chemicals over time. We don’t really notice our daily risky behaviors because they’re simply part of life…


June 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm
(15) c says:

When my son was newly diagnosed I developed pretty bad OCD as far as the purity of everything my son and I were exposed to. I became vegetarian, ate organic food that we truly can’t afford, and was filled with anxiety about every possible toxin. It got to a point where this was causing panic attacks and making life miserable. I finally realized that this was unhealthy and have learned to let go of most of the guilt and fear. Now, planning to have a second child, I am thinking that we just don’t have complete control of what will happen in life (including autism) and I am going to try to relax and enjoy the experience. I will make healthy choices within reason, but I refuse to obsess anymore.

June 18, 2011 at 11:32 am
(16) barbaraj says:

You are absolutely correct Lisa, of course we can’t avoid “life” and this is “life” a soup of exposures to “who knows what”. By the time it’s important to tell her all of the things I listed, I will probably be so demented by my tuna choices that I will forget the info.

June 18, 2011 at 11:47 am
(17) barbaraj says:

but…..it is important to avoid taking advice that doesnt’ fit US..like this vitamin article..clearly it states “In mothers and children with gene variants that affect folate metabolism, not taking prenatal vitamins before conception was associated with an up to sevenfold increase in the risk of autism, the researchers found. Prenatal vitamins are rich in folate.”

THIS IS A SMALL SUB GROUP! These moms have identified gene variants that affect folate metabolism!
For the rest of us, be aware that folate taken late in pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma…we do need to keep informed the best we can..we also need to understand the amount of folate that is in our diet due to new (90′s) fortified grain products designed to halt neural tubal defects..do we need heavy doses in our supplements as well? No one , certainly not our gyn/ob is going to have these answers and we deserve explanations and the right to the latest science on the topic.

June 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm
(18) Taximom5 says:

There is conjecture now that vitamin D deficiency is associated with autism, with celiac disease, and with many autoimmune disorders.

A pregnant mom could be taking her prenatal vitamin–but if she has undiagnosed celiac disease (autistic children have a higher rate of celiac disease, as do mothers of autistic children), she will likely not be ABSORBING it.

Or, if she has hyperemesis (a common complication of pregnancy associated with a higher risk of autism), she has a much higher chance of not keeping that prenatal vitamin down.

If she is on bed rest for any reason, she will very likely be D-deficient, as the prenatals (and regular multivitamins) do not contain adequate amounts of vitamin D, and she would not be exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D deficiency causes depleted glutathione levels. Glutathione is necessary for the body to excrete heavy metals (like mercury and aluminum, found in vaccines). Without adequate glutathione, those metals are NOT excreted, stay in the body–and cross the blood/brain barrier.

The current accepted “normal” serum vitamin D lower cutoff is ridiculously low. If your D is that low, it means you are not dying. It does not mean that you are healthy.

Please see http://www.vitamindcouncil.org for more information.

It seems that, for at least some children, it really may be just that simple.

June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm
(19) Taximom5 says:

I tried to take the prenatal vitamins, I really did. But I couldn’t keep them down. I couldn’t keep much of anything down, but those vitamins came right back up.

Thank heavens I was seeing an OBGYN in a high-risk practice who knew what she was doing.

She suggested that I take Flintstones Children’s vitamins–and they did stay down.

She was also the only doctor I ever saw who considered the possibility that I might have celiac (which every other doctor I ever saw missed). (It turned out to be the reason I couldn’t keep crackers down.)

We make the assumption that if we take those prenatal vitamins, we’re actually absorbing what is in them. Not necessarily the case. And since there is such a high percentage of autistic kids with celiac/gluten intolerance, it’s pretty darn likely that there is a high percentage of MOTHERS of autistic kids with celiac/gluten intolerance.

We also assume that prenatal vitamins and other vitamins have the “right” amount of vitamins, and that’s not necessarily so, either.

June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm
(20) Taximom5 says:

I’ve learned through my own health problems that one can have serum B12 and D levels that the doctors cheerfully proclaim as “normal!” that are NOT adequate to avoid serious health problems.

For example, the accepted “normal’ range of serum B12 is 200-1200. That’s a huge range, by the way. Mine was 290. I was told it was normal, no supplements needed. But I found a truckload of studies on PubMed indicating neurological problems with levels under 500. In Japan, they treat anything under 650! And I had every known symptom of pernicious anemia–until I took special supplements. My levels went to 720, and my symptoms disappeared.

Did you know that acid blockers can CAUSE B12 deficiency? They block the acid needed to properly absorb the B12.

It’s also possible to have normal serum B12–but still have pernicious anemia, if you are deficient in intrinsic factor. But that’s a separate test, which few doctors are aware of.

Symptoms of pernicious anemia do have some overlap with problems seen with autism: vestibular disorders, fluctuating hearing loss, auditory processing disorders, etc.

(Sorry to be leaving so many long posts–but there is SO much relevant info that took me so long to learn–I hope to save others some time!)

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