A Norwegian study published in the February issue of JAMA provides mothers-to-be with an additional reason to take folic acid supplements, and to start even before becoming pregnant. It has been known for decades that folic acid (or folate), one of the B complex family of vitamins, is essential during pregnancy to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. This new study provides strong evidence that folic acid can also reduce the risk of childhood Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The study looked at over 85,000 children in Norway. Children whose mothers had taken folic acid supplements prior to and during early pregnancy had a 39% lower risk of developing ASD (0.10% compared to 0.21%). A previous study from California, published June 2012 in the Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, found that supplementation with at least 600mcg folic acid during the first month of pregnancy lowered the chance of autism by 38%.
The main author of the Norwegian study, Dr. Pal Suren, is quoted in a Medscape article that while a causative relationship has not been proven, these results “support the current recommendations of taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy and emphasize the importance of starting early – preferably before conception”.
The timing of supplementation is critical. Starting folic acid supplementation in mid pregnancy did not lower the risk of ASD – it was already too late. And a study from Australia found that supplementing with folic acid in late pregnancy could increase the risk of childhood asthma. The current Health Canada recommendation is for 400 mcg to a maximum of 1mg of folic acid daily starting 3 months before conception and throughout the pregnancy. I suggest at least 600mcg and to stop after the first trimester. So if you are even thinking about becoming pregnant, start taking folic acid supplements right away – don’t wait for a positive test result. It won’t hurt you and it could give your baby a much healthier start in life.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.