Autism spectrum disorders and nutrition: pregnancy


Last week I dedicated a post to publicize and unmask an alleged alternative therapy for the treatment of children with autism . I was accused of “not building” and only pretending to destroy. It may be true; in my defense I will say that I see nothing wrong in destroying what others have created for purposes (willing or not) allegedly fraudulent … but that in any case is a false hope … who knows if it is also dangerous.

Well, today I am determined to build and I will try to shed some light on two specific issues that, no wonder, always plan over the heads of those parents (both) with children affected with some autism spectrum disorder (ASD) ): Has the nutritional status of the mother, prior to pregnancy and during the pregnancy, influenced the development of an ASD in her offspring? and, beyond all this , what is known about the truth about successfully treating cases of ASD already diagnosed from the point of view of nutrition? I will address these issues in separate posts, one for each question.

Introduction to the causes of ASD

Image result for asdOn the origin of the different TEA (there is no single autism, as there is no, for example, a single “boat”) there are things that are quite well assumed: firstly that in its genesis there are different variables involved , genetic (of both parents), environmental and biological and; secondly, that all these variables are not identified since the ultimate causes of a significant number of cases of ASD are unknown. To worsen this reality, it is most likely that among all the known factors and those that are still to be revealed, there is also a certain relationship , and there may be predisposing and triggering factors (which are not the same). That is to say and for example, different groups of children with certain genes can be affected more easily due to their different environmental exposure.

So far what is quite clear is the following:

  • The scientific consensus coincides in resting genes on one of the risk factors that make a person more vulnerable to having an ASD . This is so that children who have siblings or a parent with ASD, have a higher risk of suffering some type of these disorders.
  • ASDs occur more often in people with certain conditions . About 10% of children with ASD have an identified genetic disorder, such as fragile X syndrome , tuberous sclerosis , Down syndrome and other chromosomal alterations.
  • The use of certain medications during pregnancy has been positively associated with a higher risk of presenting ASD, for example, thalidomide and valproic acid .
  • At the same time, there is also considerable certainty about some factors that are NOT causal factors of ASD , although one may hear about them, among them, one of the main ones, the old belief that ASDs are caused by bad parenting or carelessness in its growth by parents .

Nutritional status of the mother and incidence of ASD

Image result for pregnant mother

If you have carefully read the previous lines, the subject of the nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy is not a question that, in one sense or another, is considered contrasted when establishing it as one of the factors related to the development of the ASD.

However, precisely because of this uncertainty , there are few studies that are carried out to value this particular. In fact, currently a good part of the studies carried out not only take into account various aspects of the nutritional situation of the mother, but also interact with their genome in one way or another to favor a possible ASD in their offspring. According to some studies , in the case of genetically predisposed mothers, it could be interesting to supplement their diet in the period prior to conception with multivitamins in order to reduce the risk of ASD. Other studies ( link and link ) focus the benefits of this possible primary prevention intervention on specific vitamins, very often and especially, folic acid . Another vitamin possibly involved is vitamin D ; in this way, other studies such as this one or this one have speculated on how an inadequate nutritional status of vitamin D could favor cases of ASD.

Beyond vitamins, other studies seem to find a certain relationship in the dietary profile of the mother’s fats and the risk of ASD, so, in this case , it seems to provide some evidence on the role of omega-3 fatty acids. 6 and omega-3 , so that the dietary enrichment of the former would be related to a decrease in risk and the low intakes of the latter with an increase thereof.

If there is a common denominator in almost all of these studies pointed out, many of them reviews of the scientific literature on this matter, they are not clear . Thus, in most of the conclusions, the word that stands out is “could” … it could help, it could be beneficial, it could reduce (or increase) the risk , and so on. And it is precisely because of the observational nature of these studies or those that are reviewed, it becomes especially complicated to draw clear and direct conclusions. If we add to this that most of the possible nutritional factors may be related to genetic issues … it is understandable that the conclusions are not clearer than they are. In this way, all studies without exception end up referring to the need to do more studies in that line .


It seems that we strive to find an unequivocal relationship regarding the nutritional status of the mother and the development of ASD by her offspring; In spite of this, this topic is not at all clear although it seems that “there is something” . In any case, what is not too much doubt is that an adequate nutritional status facilitated by a diet also adequate in regard to its composition in macro and micronutrients, without being much less a guarantee to avoid cases of ASD , it could reduce its incidence (but of course, probably in a certain genetically predisposed population).

The only clear recommendation that I have made is that knowing the minimum risks of folic acid supplementation, while its proven benefits in reducing the risk of various disorders (not only ASD), would invite all pregnant women or women with the intention of being included in this kind of supplement in your diet. Something that on the other hand is already part of all protocols and recommendations in this regard

In the next chapter we will see the possible effect and role of nutrients in the treatment of cases of ASD already diagnosed.