Study says Zinc deficiency during pregnancy linked to autism in babies

A new study claims that babies who don’t get enough zinc while in the womb may be more likely to develop autism.

Even though scientists still don’t have a definitive answer for what causes autism, the vast majority of research shows it may be a combination of ‘environmental factors’ and genetic defects.

In a new paper published this month, US and German scientists say they have evidence that zinc levels may be one of the defining environmental factors that sew the seeds of the behavioral disorder.

More research is needed to confirm whether there could be a causal link, but the team says they have defined a possible mechanistic link.

According to, scientists¬†found zinc shapes the connections or ‘synapses’ between brain cells that form during early development, via a complex molecular machinery encoded by autism risk genes.

Zinc deficiency during pregnancy linked to autism

They however caution research is at its early stage and the findings does not mean pregnant women should start taking zinc supplements to prevent autism.

Senior author Dr Sally Kim of Stanford University School of Medicine in California said: ‘Autism is associated with specific variants of genes involved in the formation, maturation and stabilisation of synapses during early development.

‘Our findings link zinc levels in neurons – via interactions with the proteins encoded by these genes – to the development of autism.’

Co-senior author Professor Craig Garner of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases added: ‘Currently, there are no controlled studies of autism risk with zinc supplementation in pregnant women or babies, so the jury is still out.

‘Nevertheless, our findings offer a novel mechanism for understanding how the mineral deficiency – or disrupted handling of zinc in neurons – might contribute to autism.’

Zinc helps with making new cells and enzymes, processing carbohydrate, fat and protein in food and wound healing.

Foods rich in the mineral include meat, shellfish, dairy foods such as cheese, bread and cereals.

The NHS said most people get enough of this mineral from their diet and should not take more than 25mg of zinc supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.

Too much reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb, which can lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones.


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