Iron deficiency affects 40%–50% of pregnancies. Iron is critical for early neurodevelopmental processes that are dysregulated in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
We examined maternal iron intake in relation to ASD risk in California-born children enrolled in a population-based case-control study (the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study) from 2003 to 2009 with a diagnosis of ASD (n = 520) or typical development (n = 346) that was clinically confirmed using standardized assessments.
Mean maternal daily iron intake was quantified on the basis of frequency, dose, and brands of supplements and cereals consumed each month from 3 months before pregnancy through the end of pregnancy and during breastfeeding (the index period), as reported in parental interviews.
Mothers of cases were less likely to report taking iron-specific supplements during the index period (adjusted odds ratio = 0.63, 95% confidence interval: 0.44, 0.91), and they had a lower mean daily iron intake (51.7 (standard deviation, 34.0) mg/day) than mothers of controls (57.1 (standard deviation, 36.6) mg/day; P = 0.03). The highest quintile of iron intake during the index period was associated with reduced ASD risk compared with the lowest (adjusted odds ratio = 0.49, 95% confidence interval: 0.29, 0.82), especially during breastfeeding.
Low iron intake significantly interacted with advanced maternal age and metabolic conditions; combined exposures were associated with a 5-fold increased ASD risk.
Further studies of this link between maternal supplemental iron and ASD are needed to inform ASD prevention strategies.
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