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Australian researchers have discovered children born to women deficient in vitamin D at 20 weeks pregnant are more likely to show signs of autism by age six.

Previously, vitamin D had been known as aiding in the treatment of children with autism and ASD.

The new study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, examined samples from 4,200 women and children in the Netherlands. The subjects were closely monitored as part of the "Generation R" study, with blood levels of less than 25.0 nmols of vitmain D considered to be deficient.

University of Queensland’s Brain Institute's Professor John McGrath said, "This study provides further evidence that low vitamin D is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders."

However, McGrath also said, "We would not recommend more sun exposure, because of the increased risk of skin cancer in countries like Australia. Instead, it’s feasible that a safe, inexpensive, and publicly accessible vitamin D supplement in at-risk groups may reduce the prevalence of this risk factor."

Though vitamin D can be most easily absorbed through exposure to sunlight, it is also available by way of foods and supplements. The vitamin is best known for its importance in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, but is also critical for brain growth. Previously, vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy was linked to a variety of different conditions, including asthma, schizophrenia, eczema, and reduced bone density.

However, the current research does not yet prove children will be free of autism if their mothers take vitamin D supplements.

Telethon Kids Institute Professor Andrew Whitehouse noted, "Autism is linked to dozens if not hundreds of different mechanisms which lead to this condition. This study gives us an inkling of one of these possible mechanisms but I think before we think about anything else, and that includes treatment studies, we need to see this finding replicated. We know that genetic factors play a major role in the developmental pathways that may lead to autism."