Intake of vitamin D supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy is likely to prevent the development of autism traits in children, researchers found in a study on mice.
Low vitamin D levels in pregnant women have been connected to increased likelihood of having a child with autistic characters, the study said.
Autism describes lifelong developmental disabilities including difficulty or inability to communicate with others and interact socially.
The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development, said lead researcher Darryl Eyles, professor at University of Queensland. “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,” Eyles added.
Further, recent human studies also showed a link between pregnant women with low vitamin D levels – also crucial for maintaining healthy bones – and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits, the researchers said.
For the study, appearing in journal the Molecular Autism, the team 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 behaviours.
The researchers also revealed that the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing foetus.
New studies are needed 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 blood stream, the researchers said.
Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D – which skin cells manufacture in response to ultraviolet rays – but it is also found in some foods such as fatty fish like salmon and tuna, dairy products and cereals.