Study Finds Folic Acid May Decrease Risk For Autism

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Folic acid pills in blister pack, single pill shown removed from packaging

Folic acid is already recommended to prevent birth defects, but the supplement could lower risk of autism as well.

In the U.S., grain and cereal makers have been supplementing breads and other products with folic acid since 1998, after studies showed that the B vitamin could lower the risk of neural tube defects in newborns.  The latest study, published in the journal JAMA, provides another reason that moms-to-be should consume the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid: it may lower risk of autism in their newborns by up to 40%.

Researchers studied data from about 85,000 Norwegian children born between 2002 and 2008; in Norway, unlike in the U.S. there are no requirements to fortify foods with folic acid, so the researchers tracked the use of folic acid supplements in expectant moms beginning four weeks before they became pregnant to eight weeks into their pregnancy. Women who took the pills were less likely to have children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders than mothers who didn’t take folate supplements. By the end of the study, when the children were 3 years to 10 years old, 270 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); 114 were diagnosed with autistic disorder, 56 with Asperger syndrome, and 100 with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

(MORE: New Study Suggests Autism Can Be ‘Outgrown’)

“Mothers who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40% reduced risk of having children with autistic disorder compared with mothers who did not take folic acid,” says study author Dr. Pal Surén of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. There was no drop in risk for developing  PDD-NOS, and the number of children with Asperger syndrome was too low to be significant.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, which occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables and is important for generating and maintaining healthy cells. That’s why it may prevent neural tube birth defects early in fetal development, and could explain why it also plays a role in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. In a previous study involving the same cohort of Norwegian babies, researchers found that children born to mothers taking folic acid supplements were less likely to show language delays by age three than those whose mothers did not take the supplements. The fact that the protective effect appears only during early pregnancy, further supports the idea that the nutrient may be preventing some of the molecular abnormalities that trigger autism, which seems to develop during the initial stages of fetal development.

“Folic acid appears to have a protective effect, and given that it only occurs when you take it early, that tells you something,” says study author Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “No one really knows precisely when autism comes about. The extent to which it comes early or later isn’t entirely clear either. This suggests the protective effect of folic acid for autism is generated early. Although we don’t understand the mechanisms, the recommendation is that people should start supplements when they want to get pregnant.”

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The researchers acknowledge that they were not able to adjust for other factors that might account for the lower risk of autism among the mothers taking folic acid; women who take supplements, for example, are more likely to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and are able to take advantage of prenatal programs that could improve their health in other ways as well. But Surén and his colleagues also asked the mothers about their use of fish oil supplements, and did not find a similar drop of autism rates among these users, who presumably would be of a similar economic background as the women taking folic acid supplements.

The findings certainly raise an intriguing, and potentially simple way to lowering risk of autism, especially given the rising rates of the disorder in many parts of the world. “We have an explosion of autism worldwide,” says Lipkin. “Overall, the rate appears to be much higher than we anticipated. Some people argue the change is from a real increase while others argue it’s from more diagnosis. We still want to prevent it. Given that this is such a simple thing to do, it is inexpensive, non toxic, it is an important thing to tell anyone considering getting pregnant to take folate.”

9 comments
robk
robk

A very interesting study.

joesefi
joesefi

THIS IS A SICK WEBSITE I LOVE FOLIC ACID

bojimbo26
bojimbo26 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Its in the DNA not the medicine/tablets .

Comportlife
Comportlife

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bachcole
bachcole

Martin, pretty much most of what you say is true, and I do like to blame the FDA for most health problems.  This is because they are guilty of so many health screw-ups that it is difficult to separate them out.  For example, the FDA forbade amounts of folic acid in multiple vitamins above 80 micrograms decades ago; as a result, babies all over the country were born with spina bifida.  The FDA did not look at current research; they decided that people taking an adequate amount of folic acid would mask another problem.  And this is just one of the stupid and destructive things that they have done.  They are so corrupt and incompetent; why not just let the market place decide about supplements and food and make the FDA the PDA, the Prescription Drug Administration?  Why not?  Because they like power and they like the great jobs waiting for them when they leave the FDA in the food and pharmaceutical industries.  And they don't really believe in freedom, except their own freedom to power and job security.


The FDA is usually decades behind current research.  They still haven't gotten hip to antioxidants and fish oil.  Do we the people have to wait for them to do their homework when we can easily do our own due diligence on the Internet?

bachcole
bachcole

Are you saying that the FDA got it 180 degrees wrong for the past 45 years and is responsible for millions of babies getting autism and spina bifida!  What a big surprise that is?  When are people going to realize that the FDA does not work for them, that the FDA works for Big Pharma, that the FDA is the enemy of the American people and has caused more deaths than all the terrorists all put together since 1776.

MartinBouckaert
MartinBouckaert

@bachcole the FDA isn't mentioned in this article. I think you're getting the FDA confused with researchers. The FDA works with current research to determine medical authority, but they don't dictate the research. Thanks for playing "how to blame the FDA for all the world's problems when the FDA has no say over the health of other nations" though, especially considering the global nature of Autism. Are you going to blame the FDA for people dying of the Plague in the 18th century as well?