Toddlers diagnosed with autism in a new study had lower levels of vitamin D while they were in the womb. CC0 Creative Commons

Researchers have found a possible link between autism and vitamin D, saying that low levels of the vitamin during pregnancy could greatly increase the risk of a child having the developmental disorder.

Previous research suggested there might be a connection between vitamin D and autism, according to a study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and this new analysis took things a step further. The team looked at how prevalent autism was among 3-year-olds in the study and compared that to how much vitamin D was present when they were born, using “neonatal dried blood samples.”

Of the thousands of toddler subjects, 310 were diagnosed with the developmental disorder.

“The median [vitamin D] level was significantly lower in children with ASD as compared to controls,” the study says.

Based on their findings, the researchers said that children who had the lowest levels of vitamin D as infants had a 260 percent increased risk of developing autism, as compared to the babies who received the most vitamin D. The risk decreased the more neonatal vitamin D there was.

“Neonatal vitamin D status was significantly associated with the risk of ASDs and intellectual disability,” according to the study.

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impairments in communication and social interactions, as well as other cognitive and emotional issues. Recent research has suggested that the root of the problem might be in the number of connections between brain cells — although it may sound impossible to have too many neural connections, researchers are saying this might overload and confuse the brain.

Vitamin D has been linked to other health conditions, including dementia, migraines and mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression. In the case of the latter two, scientists have said that low levels of the vitamin could make symptoms of the mental illnesses worse.

Our bodies produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The vitamin is important for calcium absorption, growth and immune function, according to the National Institutes of Health.