Babies who don’t get enough zinc while in the womb may be more likely to develop autism, a new study claims.

Scientists still don’t have a definitive answer for what causes autism, but the vast majority of research shows it is down to a combination of ‘environmental factors’ and genetic defects, shares Daily Mail.

The study published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, found 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.

Researchers 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.

However they 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.

‘We really can’t make any conclusions or recommendations for zinc supplementation at this point, but experimental work in autism models also published in this Frontiers Research Topic holds promise.

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

Co-author Prof John Huguenard concluded: ‘This suggests that a lack of zinc during early development might contribute to autism through impaired synaptic maturation and neuronal circuit formation.

‘Understanding the interaction between zinc and Shank proteins could therefore lead to diagnostic, treatment and prevention strategies for autism.’

Share your comments below

  • Good to take a multi vitamin mineral supplement when pregnant, just to be on the safe side. A good and healthy balanced diet is even more important.


  • Hmm, not so sure about this one.


  • I think it’s important to have a balanced diet and just eat lots of different things to make sure you get all of the different vitamins and minerals.


  • I think the consumption of preservatives is probably linked to the growing number of conditions and illness. People no longer eat real food and instead eat food products.


  • and yet mums that don’t eat and use drugs have healthy babies (other than having to be weaned off drugs)


  • Good to know. But until there is greater proof… Still better to be safe than sorry – stock up on thos vitamins ladies.


  • Better to get your vitamins and minerals from a wholefoods diet than from supplements which can be dangerous.


  • Interestingly, my hubby was on zinc supplements for the time we were trying to conceive and our son has autism. I think there’s still so much research to be done and this just confuses things. Last week there was some other link to autism. I think we need to be clear and sure.


  • It would be good to get results


  • Be interested in this study down the track and also whether this study will be furthered to see if it is a zinc deficiency that is also causing impairment of neurons in Alzheimer’s disease. Very few foods have zinc in them in my opinion. Only oysters come to mind


  • Another theory. At least researchers are looking into the causes.


  • Interesting. I remember reading that they thought a lack of vitamin D was responsible in 2016. I wonder if that research is still going.


  • WOw very interesting study who would have thought zinc deficiency might cause autism


  • I think when it comes to autism, scientists clutch at straws to diagnose it. This is out of context as there is only one study suggesting zinc deficiency and it isn’t founded on reputable results.

    It is important for all pregnant women to ensure they are eating the right foods and taking supplements as necessary as prescribed by their doctor. This can ensure a happy healthy baby. Misuse of supplements can also be detrimental and articles like this encourage that.

    Do I think its linked to autism? NO.


  • This needs more research.

    • Absolutely! Great care needs to be taken with the findings of any research. A lot of research needs to go into the results of research.


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