It is well known that folic acid taken prior to conception can help reduce the occurrence of some kinds of birth defects. A new study now shows that folic acid supplementation may also be related to the development of autism.
Women who take folic acid supplements four weeks prior to becoming pregnant and during early pregnancy have a lower risk of giving birth to children who later develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to an article published in JAMA.
Folate important for production of new cells, DNA and RNA
Folate is generally found in legumes, leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits. Folate and folic acid play important roles in the production of new cells, especially during pregnancy and infancy.
“Supplementation with folic acid around the time of conception reduces the risk of neural tube defects in children,” the authors wrote.
“This protective effect has led to mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid in several countries, and it is generally recommended that women planning to become pregnant take a daily supplement of folic acid starting one month before conception.”
Increased risk for ASD found in children whose mothers did not take supplement
In 2012, researchers from UC Davis concluded that taking folic acid during the first month of pregnancy reduces the risk of ASD.
In this study, researchers investigated whether taking folic acid before conception would also reduce the risk. Among other conclusions, they reported that 0.10 percent of children whose mothers took folic acid four weeks before and during the first eight weeks of pregnancy were eventually diagnosed with ASD, whereas 0.21 percent of children whose mothers did not take the supplement were eventually diagnosed with ASD.
The researchers concluded: “Our main finding was that maternal use of folic acid supplements around the time of conception was associated with a lower risk of autistic disorder. This finding does not establish a causal relation between folic acid use and autistic disorder but provides a rationale for replicating the analyses in other study samples and further investigating genetic factors and other biological mechanisms that may explain the inverse association.”
Source: JAMA, MedicalNewsToday