Created on: February 14, 2013
Folic Acid is already recommended for pregnant mothers to prevent serious birth defects. However, researchers have discovered an additional benefit of Folic Acid in pregnant women – the B vitamin is thought to lower the risk of developing autism in babies.
The study, which was published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (
JAMA), followed 85,176 children in Norway who were born between 2002 and 2008. Of the children studied, 270 developed autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Of these, children whose mothers took Folic Acid had a 0.10% chance of developing an autistic disorder, compared to 0.21% in children whose mothers did not take the supplement. The adjusted data showed that pregnant women who took Folic Acid supplements early in their pregnancy had a 39% lower chance of giving birth to children with autistic spectrum disorders (ADSs) compared to mothers that did not take the supplement.
Medscape.com reports that Norwegian Institute of Public Health MD, Pal Suren, said he was surprised by the magnitude of the effects of Folic Acid, particularly as it was related specifically to Folic Acid and not to other supplements. However, he said that the news is encouraging, as, if the reduction in risk was related to a range of supplements, healthy behaviors in general are more likely to explain the effects rather than supplements.
While Dr. Suren is excited by the results, he cautions that further research is required. However, he also said that “it is not implausible to think that it might also have other beneficial effects, and possibly be protective against other neurodevelopmental disorders too.”
A related study conducted in Norway also found that taking Folic Acid supplements from four weeks before to eight weeks after the start of pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of severe language delay at age three years.
Also called folate, Folic Acid is found in leafy greens, orange juice and enriched grains. Kidshealth.org reports that women who get more than 400 micograms of Folic Acid daily both before conception and during early pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects in newborns by up to 70%. This has prompted several countries to require flour to be fortified with Folic Acid. Neural tube defects include spina bifida or an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column, anencephaly, or a serious underdevelopment of the brain, and encephalocele, where brain tissue extends beyond the skin through an abnormal opening in the skull.
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