A new study has found that giving vitamin D supplements to mice during pregnancy prevented autism in their offspring.

The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development, according to lead researcher Professor Darryl Eyles from the University of Queensland.

“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,” Eyles said. “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.”

In human studies, researchers at the university’s Queensland Brain Institute recently found a link between pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits.

Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D, but it is also found in some foods.

Dr. Wei Luan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, noted vitamin D is crucial for maintaining healthy bones, but the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus.

“Recent funding will now allow us 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 bloodstream,” said Luan.

“This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women.”

Researchers also noted that while it was previously thought vitamin D had a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development, their study didn’t find this to be the case.

The study was published in Molecular Autism.

Source: University of Queensland