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Folic acid pregnancy might thwart autism

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Folic acid during early pregnancy linked to lower risk of autism.

Folic acid just might help thwart the most severe form of classic autism, finds a new study. The B vitamin is important for helping babies develop in the womb; especially the nervous system. The finding, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests folic acid taken before a woman conceives and early during pregnancy might protect against the disorder.

The research findings come from the ABC Study and Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Taking folic acid supplements was associated with lower rates of childhood autism, which is the most severe form.

Autism diagnosed before age 3 is more prevalent in boys than girls. Symptoms include abnormal behaviors in 3 areas - social, communication and behavior.

Autism, folic acid link observational

In the study that was observational, women who took folic acid four weeks before getting pregnant and eight weeks into pregnancy had a 40 percent less likelihood of giving birth to a child with the disorder.

The investigation that comes from researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Columbia University in New York and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in Bethesda, USA makes a strong case for more studies.

Folic acid is a recommended supplement for women who are planning pregnancy that the Norwegian Directorate of Health recommends starting one month before pregnancy and during the first 3-months to protect from birth defects of the baby's brain and spinal cord.

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The purpose of the new study was to find out what other benefits folic acid might have during pregnancy.

Folic acid was previously found from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study to prevent language delay at age-3.

Women who are pregnant are encouraged to eat a diet rich in folic acid and other nutrients, but the new study failed to find find the same benefits for lower autism risk from folic acid in food or from taking fish oil.

The study included 85,176 children born between 2002 and 2008. Just 43 percent of women took folic acid in 2002, compared to 85 percent in 2008.

Women who took supplements tended to have higher income and were more health conscious, which may have influence the results, according to the authors.

There were 56 children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome; 100 had atypical or unspecified autism. Half of the women started taking folic acid before conception, based on self-reported diet and supplement use in early pregnancy.

The finding suggests folic acid might lower the chances of autism, taken before conception and early during pregnancy. More studies are needed to replicate the finding and understand how the B vitamin might contribute to fetal neurodevelopment.

February 13, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile