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Taking Vitamin D During Pregnancy Shows Promise in Preventing Autism

Mar 21, 2017 09:34 AM EDT
Giving vitamin D to mouse models during their pregnancy could help prevent autism traits to their offspring.
(Photo : China Photos/Getty Images)

A new study from University of Queensland revealed that giving vitamin D to mouse models during their pregnancy could help prevent autism traits to their offspring.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Autism, showed that vitamin D plays a crucial role in brain development.

"Our study 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 behaviors," said Darryl Eyles, a professor at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute and lead author of the study, in a press release.

The team further discovered that offsprings are less likely to develop deficits when pregnant females have active vitamin D in their bodies during the first trimester of pregnancy.

For the study, the researchers investigated if the immunomodulatory and neuroprotective properties of vitamin D could prevent autism-related behaviors induced by the so-called maternal immune activation (MIA). The researchers found that prenatal administration of vitamin D all the behavioral effects caused by MIA.

Prenatal exposure to infection is a known environmental risk factor of autism. Interestingly, vitamin D is thought to have a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development. However, the researchers found that anti-inflammatory effect of vitamin D is not the main reason behind the ability of vitamin D to prevent autism in offspring.

Vitamin D is manufactured naturally by the skin cells in response to exposure to the sun's UV rays. It is considered to be crucial for maintaining healthy bones. However, the active hormonal form of vitamin D is not recommended to be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus.

With the positive results of the current study on the link between prenatal exposure to vitamin D and decreased risk of autism, the next step for the researchers is to determine how much vitamin D supplement is safe for pregnant women in order to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream.

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