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Autism and the Low Iron Connection

Pregnant Stomach

The topic of autism is a charged one. Maybe it’s because it isn’t a simple diagnosis; there are many roads to autism. Most of them are probably genetic, some of them are likely environmental, and none of them are related to vaccination (sorry to burst your bubble anti vax people, it’s called science). Some new research shows another possible (environmental) cause. The new study shows that mothers of children with autism are significantly less likely to report taking iron supplements before and during their pregnancies than the mothers of children who are developing normally.

Low iron intake was associated with a whopping five-fold greater risk of autism in the child if the mother was 35 or older at the time of the child’s birth or if she suffered from metabolic conditions such as obesity hypertension or diabetes, all of which have been dramatically rising here in the US.

The research is the first to examine the relationship between maternal iron intake and having a child with autism spectrum disorder.

“The association between lower maternal iron intake and increased ASD risk was strongest during breastfeeding, after adjustment for folic acid intake,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute.

The same team of researchers were the first to report associations between supplemental folic acid and reduced risk for autism spectrum disorder, a finding later replicated in larger scale investigations.

“Further, the risk associated with low maternal iron intake was much greater when the mother was also older and had metabolic conditions during her pregnancy.”

The study was conducted in mother-child pairs enrolled in the Northern California-based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study between 2002 and 2009. The participants included mothers of children with autism and 346 mothers of children with typical development.

The researchers examined maternal iron intake among the study’s participants, including vitamins, other nutritional supplements, and breakfast cereals during the three months prior to through the end of the women’s pregnancies and breastfeeding. The mothers’ daily iron intake was examined, including the frequency, dosages and the brands of supplements that they consumed.

“Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants,” Schmidt said. “Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism.”

Unfortunately most people who are deficient in iron might not even know it.Since you can still function fairly normally with low iron, symptoms might not present themselves at all, or if they do they might not be severe enough to try and determine the cause of the problem. There is a word of caution in the study about the results however:

“Iron deficiency is pretty common, and even more common among women with metabolic conditions,” Schmidt said. “However we want to be cautious and wait until this study has been replicated.

The researchers suggest that the bottom line is to not worry so much about preventing autism through vitamins and just being healthy:

“In the meantime the takeaway message for women is do what your doctor recommends. Take vitamins throughout pregnancy, and take the recommended daily dosage. If there are side effects, talk to your doctor about how to address them.”

While this is probably just one of many roads to the autistic spectrum — as with any discovery — this promises to bring with it a better understanding of ASD, ways to treat and prevent it, as well as (hopefully) finding better ways to prevent or cure the disorder.

As always with my autism articles I want to drive the point home, vaccines are safe. Vaccinate your children for their health, don’t base your decisions on fear and misinformation. And to the anti-vaccination movement, you should be ashamed of yourself, instilling fear in already scared parents all for profit or just plain stupidity.

Lastly to the parents of autistic children, nothing you did or have done could’ve prevented it. As I am sure you are uniquely aware, autistic children are just as much of a gift as any child, and under no circumstances should you feel guilty or scared. Unfortunately you are being targeted like this because you do care enough to feel guilty and people are taking advantage of that, for this I am sorry.

But don’t trust me, there is plenty of science showing that they are safe and do not cause autism, you can find just a small drop of that science listed here. There is no conspiracy the government can’t even keep it’s super secret spying programs a secret, a vaccine conspiracy would be no different.

Rebecca J. Schmidt et al (2014). Maternal intake of supplemental iron and risk for autism spectrum disorders American Journal of Epidemiology

Schmidt, R., Tancredi, D., Ozonoff, S., Hansen, R., Hartiala, J., Allayee, H., Schmidt, L., Tassone, F., & Hertz-Picciotto, I. (2012). Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96 (1), 80-89 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004416

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