Can Vitamins Cause Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurological and developmental condition in which individuals experience challenges with social skills, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Characteristics of ASD may include delayed developmental milestones, obsessive interests, difficulty communicating, very specific sensory preferences, and intense anxiety (1). Depending on the challenges faced by each individual, treatment plans may be different in order to better suit their needs with some preferring behavioral therapy or natural supplementation over pharmacological drugs.
There has been much speculation in recent years about various medicines and supplements influencing the development of ASD in children. In this article, we will address the potential causes of autism based on scientific evidence and examine whether or not supplements could have an impact on ASD symptoms or the development of the disorder.
The Short Answer: Probably Not
At the moment, there is not one singular known cause of autism. The condition is extremely complex and likely relies on a number of different environmental and genetic factors in combination. However, there may be some factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of a child being born with ASD.
Over time, many studies have been performed in an attempt to determine a link between prenatal vitamins and the development of ASD. There is not enough conclusive evidence to prove one way or another that certain vitamins affect ASD development. One study discovered a potential link between low vitamin D levels in the mother and increased likelihood of autism for the child (2). Another found that taking too much folic acid during pregnancy could increase the risk of the child being born with ASD as well (3). In each case, however, low maternal vitamin D or high maternal folic acid did not guarantee a child being born with autism, so the impacts of different vitamins remain unclear.
Above all, it is important to remember that taking too much of any supplement can be detrimental. You should aim to consume the daily recommended amounts of the necessary vitamins and minerals each day, especially when pregnant, but don’t go overboard. It’s always best to defer to the recommendations of your physician, as they are aware of your unique situation and can advise you on what supplements you need or don’t need.
Potential Causes of Autism
As we mentioned in the previous section, there are a number of different factors that may impact the development of ASD. These factors are typically grouped into two categories: environmental and genetic. However, while these various factors may interact to increase the likelihood of the development of ASD, they cannot necessarily be considered causes. Many people who do not have the condition are affected by the same genetic changes or environmental factors. So, at the moment, there is no known singular cause of ASD.
Genetics likely play at least some role in autism. Some of the genetic mutations that could increase the risk of ASD are inherited while others are entirely spontaneous. It’s generally thought that autism runs in families, with mothers who have given birth to one child with autism being more likely to give birth to another child with ASD (4). However, most people with ASD have different genetic changes from one another. Certain combinations of genetic changes may cause different ASD symptoms and affect the severity of the symptoms (5).
ASD probably results from interaction between these genetic factors and environmental ones. Some of the environmental factors that may increase the risk of autism include:
- Increased age of parents.
- Low birth weight.
- Extremely premature birth.
- Genetic conditions (Fragile X and Rett syndromes).
How Vitamins Can Help
Though any link between taking or not taking vitamins and the risk of autism is currently uncertain, research indicates that some supplements may have a positive impact on treatment of ASD symptoms in affected individuals. There are several different vitamins and minerals that you might find in the best liquid multivitamin for autism, but you should speak with your physician before utilizing any supplements, especially for those with pre-existing conditions like ASD.
Below, we have provided a brief list of vitamins and minerals that could benefit both children and adults with autism:
- Vitamin B12: May improve various forms of communication in ASD patients, including receptive, expressive, and written language (6).
- Vitamin D: May improve ASD symptoms associated with stimming, communication, and social interaction (7).
- Magnesium: May improve ASD symptoms associated with hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting, poor concentration, and noise sensitivity (8).
- “Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” CDC, 28 March 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html.
- Vinkhuyzen, Anna A.E. et al. “Gestational Vitamin D Deficiency and Autism Spectrum Disorder.” BJPsych Open, 10 April 2017, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28446959.
- De Crescenzo, Angelo Harlan et al. “Deficient or Excess Folic Acid Supply During Pregnancy Alter Cortical Neurodevelopment in Mouse Offspring.” Cerebral Cortex, January 2021, https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/31/1/635/5913010.
- Risch, Neil et al. “Familial Recurrence of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evaluating Genetic and Environmental Contributions.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 November 2014, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24969362.
- “What Causes Autism?” National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 31 January 2017, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/causes.
- Van Der Laan, Joya. “Supplements for Speech Delays in Autistic Children.” Your Autism Game Plan, 11 October 2021, https://yourautismgameplan.com/supplements-for-speech-delays-in-autistic-children.
- Saad, Khaled et al. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Vitamin D Supplementation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, January 2018, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27868194.
- Markham Integrative. “The Importance of Magnesium in Autism & ADHD.” Markham Integrative Medicine, 9 March 2017, https://integrative-medicine.ca/the-importance-of-magnesium-in-autism-adhd.