by Adam Corl
A study came out recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association which seems to support the idea that taking-in folic acid before and during pregnancy could help reduce the risk of having a baby that develops autism. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin.
The study took place in Norway, and looked at over 85,000 babies born between 2002- 2008. The researchers found that mothers who took folic acid (manmade folate) were less likely to give birth to a baby that would later develop autistic disorder.
This is really exciting news, but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. This is study appears to be well done and studied a large enough number of mothers and babies to give relevant information, but the study needs to be done again in other places and under other conditions to see if the trends they noticed occur in every population. The other limitation the study has is that it does not give us insight into why folate or folic acid might help to prevent autism, it simply let’s us know that there is probably a connection.
The other important thing to note is that the mothers in the study took a folic acid supplement 4 weeks before pregnancy as well as during the beginning stages of it. Taking a folic acid supplement before getting pregnant seems to be beneficial for a whole range of health issues for both the mother and baby.
If you ever read the ingredients in bread or flour (in the U.S) you’ll notice that it is fortified with folic acid. The U.S government (and many others around the world) responded to studies that showed folic acid as being key in the fetus’ brain and spinal cord development (and actively prevents diseases like spina bifida) so they pulled a bit of a “1984” move put it in our everyday foods. It looks like this helped, but not enough, so most doctors recommend taking a folic acid supplement before and during the early stages of a pregnancy.
You can also get folate naturally from leafy green vegetables like spinach, and also with dark green ones like broccoli and green beans. Even with eating well though, the recommendation of most doctors is still to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid. Folate (in all its forms) is water-soluble so if you take-in too much you just pee it out – so there’s not a big risk of over dosing.