FILED IN: Pregnancy

Folic acid during pregnancy lowers autism risk

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A new study from Norway has found that women who take extra folic acid before and after becoming pregnant are less likely to have a child with autism.

Dr. Pal Suren from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health led the study which was published in the Journal of American Medical Association.  Suren’s study followed 85,000 women and their children born between 2002 and 2008.  Women reported on the supplements and vitamins they had taken in the weeks just before becoming pregnant and in the two months after becoming pregnant.

Suren found that within the group of women who had taken folic acid supplements, one in 1,000 of the babies was diagnosed with autism.  Within the group of women who had not taken folic acid supplements, two in 1,000 of the babies was diagnosed autism.

The study doesn’t conclusively prove that low folic acid in women can cause their babies to have autism or that high doses of folic acid can prevent autism, but rather the study suggests that there is something about folic acid that can influence the risk of autism.

Dr. Suren told Reuters that the study “provides an additional reason to take folic acid, in addition to the preventative effect that we already know it has against neural tube defects.”

A lack of folic acid in a woman’s diet can cause brain and spinal cord defects and the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) advise women who may become pregnant to begin taking between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid a day.  Flour in the United States and Canada is also required to be fortified with folic acid to help decrease birth defects.

Rebecca Schmidt from the University of California, Davis told Reuters, “The message for folic acid before pregnancy has been a little bit lost.  If you are not even just planning a pregnancy, but able to get pregnant, then you should be taking some sort of folic acid supplement.”