HealthDay News — Taking iron supplements as prescribed may reduce the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to researchers.

“Iron deficiency affects 40%–50% of pregnancies. Iron is critical for early neurodevelopmental processes that are dysregulated in autism spectrum disorder (ASD),” noted Rebecca Schmidt, PhD ,of the University of California, Davis, and colleagues in American Journal of Epidemiology.

To assess maternal iron intake during the three months before conception to the end of each mother’s pregnancy, and during breastfeeding, the investigators studied 520 pairs of mothers and children with ASD and 346 pairs of mothers and typically developing children.

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All participants were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study in California, from 2003 to 2009. The mother’s daily iron intake was assessed by trained interviewers.

Mothers of children with ASD were significantly less likely to have taken iron supplements before and during pregnancy compared with the other group of mothers. Mothers of children with ASD also had a lower mean daily intake of iron than did the mothers in the control group (51.7 mg/day versus 57.1 mg/day).

Mothers aged 35 years and older who had low iron intake were five times as likely of having a child with ASD. Others at a high level of risk were female patients with metabolic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

“Further studies of this link between maternal supplemental iron and ASD are needed to inform ASD prevention strategies,” concluded the researchers.


  1. Schmidt R et al. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2014; doi: 0.1093/aje/kwu208