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Folic Acid Use in Pregnancy Linked to Lower Autism Risk

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on September 5, 2013
folic acid


Background: Folic acid, a water-soluble B vitamin, is an ingredient in most prenatal supplements, and has been shown to decrease the risk for brain and spinal defects in developing embryos. Studies have also found correlations between folic acid use in very early pregnancy and lowered risk of severe language delay—suggesting the supplement may play a part in preventing neurodevelopmental disorders.


What’s New: On February 13, 2013, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an observational study evaluating the relationship between mothers’ folic acid exposure and the likelihood of their children to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The researchers examined records of 85,176 children born between 2002 and 2008, who were participating in the Norwegian Mother and Child Study. They found that children whose mothers were unexposed to folic acid were about twice as likely (at a risk of 0.21%) to have a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder, the most severe form of autism, by 2012 than their counterparts whose mothers had taken the supplement.


Why it’s important: Although the findings do not establish that folic acid use prevents autism, this study supports the widespread recommendation for would-be mothers to begin taking the supplement before conception.

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