Folic acid supplements in early pregnancy almost halve risk of having autistic kids
Washington, February 13 : Women who took folic acid supplements from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy had a 40 per cent lower risk of giving birth to children with childhood autism (classic autism), a new study has found.
But use of folic acid supplements midway through pregnancy (week 22) had no effect, according to the new findings from the ABC Study and Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.
The findings only apply to a lower risk of childhood autism, the most severe form of autism. The results show no reduction in the risk of atypical or unspecific autism.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is essential for the construction and repair of DNA molecules, the genetic material, which controls all body cells.
Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid and is found in leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, beans, eggs, yeast and liver.
For most pregnant women, folic acid supplements are required to reach the recommended levels of folate in the blood.
Studies from other countries show that many pregnant women consume less dietary folate than is necessary to prevent neural tube defects.
The researchers found no connection between childhood autism and intake of other supplements during pregnancy. They also found no correlation with maternal intake of folate through food.
"It appears that the reduced risk of childhood autism only reflects folic acid supplements, not food or other supplements, and that the crucial time interval is from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy," said Dr Pal Suren, primary author of the paper and researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The results show an association between the use of folic acid supplements in the mother during pregnancy and a reduced risk of childhood autism.
"The study does not prove that folic acid supplements can prevent childhood autism. However, the findings are so apparent that they constitute a good argument to further examine possible causal mechanisms. It should also be ascertained whether folic acid is associated with a reduced risk of other brain disorders in children," added Suren.
The ABC Study included participants in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) who were born in 2002-2008, and included a total of 85,176 children.
The finding was published in the Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA).