Giving vitamin D to pregnant mice in their first trimester prevents their offspring developing autism traits, a new Queensland study has found.
The findings build on earlier research by the Queensland Brain Institute that found pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks' gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.
Led by University of Queensland Professor Darryl Eyles, the study on mice found pregnant females treated with active vitamin D in their first trimester produced offspring that did not develop traits associated with autism.
Autism is a developmental disability that may manifest in difficulty in social interactions and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours or interests.
But the active hormonal form can't be given to pregnant women because it could take a toll on the foetus's growing skeleton, postdoctoral researcher Dr Wei Luan said.
"This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women," Dr Luan said.
Vitamin D usually comes from exposure to the sun but it can also be found in some foods and supplements.
A deficiency during pregnancy has previously been linked to many different conditions including schizophrenia, asthma and reduced bone density.