I was listening to the news Saturday morning, and my ears perked up when I heard the reporter discuss a new study indicating that prenatal folic acid (vitamin B9) significantly reduces the risk of autism. We knew that prenatal folic acid supplements reduce the risk of neurotube defects in children, but it had not been determined if they protect against other nuerodevelopmental disorders. This study would indicate the importance of taking folic acid if you are considering pregnancy.
Folate, the natural form of folic acid, is found in leafy vegetables, orange juice, peas, lentils, beans and eggs. Flour has been fortified with folic acid in the United States and Canada, but not in Norway. However, many women still don’t get enough of the vitamin from food alone.
In the study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers tracked more than 85,000 Norwegian children born between 2002 and 2008. Mothers completed a questionnaire about supplement use both before and during their pregnancies, and the children were followed for an average of six years. The study found that children whose mothers took folic acid four weeks before pregnancy and during the first eight weeks of pregnancy had a 39% reduced risk of developing an autistic disorder.
Although these findings do not establish a causal relationship between folic use and autistic disorder, the extensiveness of the study tells us that we must not overlook the importance of folic acid prior to and during the first weeks of pregnancy.