Pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks are more likely to give birth to a child with autistic traits according to a new study. It has prompted new calls by health professionals to urge the widespread use of vitamin D supplements.

Findings by researchers led by Professor John McGrath from the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute and Dr Henning Tiemeier from the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands identified a link between deficiency during pregnancy and autism. This meant pregnant women at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.

The study titled “Generation R” in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, examined 4,200 blood samples across many pregnant women and their children with blood samples returning a reading of 25.0 nanomols, which is considered vitamin D deficient.

According to Professor John McGrath, the study provides further evidence that low vitamin D is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders recommending supplements over increasing sun exposure, due to the risk of skin cancer in Australia.

“Supplements might reduce the incidence of autism, a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, how an individual relates to their environment and other people,” said Professor McGrath.

“Instead, its feasible that a safe, inexpensive, and publicly accessible
vitamin D supplement for at-risk groups may reduce the prevalence of this risk factor.”

Autism and child development expert Professor Andrew Whitehouse, from the Telethon Kids Institute is an advocate for the use of this essential vitamin supplement during pregnancy but advises the research needs to be put into perspective and not conclusive.

“The results of this study are not totally surprising and potentially very important,” Professor Whitehouse said.

“There are like dozens, if not hundreds, of different mechanisms that can lead to autism.”

If you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency, make an appointment with your local GP, or alternatively seek advice from your pharmacist.