We have known for a long time that folic acid, a man-made form of folate, is an important B vitamin that can help prevent major birth defects, most notably those that affect the spine and brain. Now, preliminary findings in a recent study in JAMA present another potential benefit of this important vitamin, if taken before conception and during pregnancy: an association between folic acid supplementation and reduced risk of autism.
The studied involved over 85,000 mothers and their children, born between 2002 and 2008. In children whose mothers took folic acid from 4 weeks before conception through 8 weeks of pregnancy, 0.10% showed signs of autistic disorder, compared with 0.21% in those unexposed to folic acid supplementation. The study’s authors concluded that these findings cannot establish causality; however, they do support prenatal folic acid supplementation.
Folate can be found in many foods such as leafy vegetables and legumes, but most of us cannot get enough from food alone; hence, the need for supplementation. The CDC recommends that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day starting at least 4 weeks before conception and every day during pregnancy; however, even if you are not planning pregnancy there are benefits to taking folic acid because it is a critical component in cell creation and renewal. Folic acid is involved in hair, nail and skin growth and new blood cell development to help prevent anemia.
In many countries, including the U.S., several foods such as bread, pasta and cereal are fortified with folic acid to help prevent birth defects. With a growing number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, it is even more important to make sure you are getting enough of this B vitamin. Be sure that your vitamins and food labels list 100% recommended daily value of folic acid or 400 mcgs.
Chris Just, MSN, CNM
Executive Director of Prenatal Education