Taking folic acid during early pregnancy may reduce risk of autism disorders
Women who take prenatal folic acid supplements before they get pregnant or early in their pregnancy could lower their risk of autism, a recent study published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers looked at 85,176 babies born from 2002 to 2008 for 3 to 10 years to determine if moms who used folic acid supplements influenced the risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of disorders that affects the normal development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication skills and behavioral function. Disorders include autistic disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, also called atypical autism.
Researchers paid particular attention to women who had taken folic acid for 4 weeks before pregnancy to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy. Babies in the study were from the Autism Birth Cohort Study, a subset of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.
Researchers identified a total of 270 cases of autism spectrum disorders in the study population (114 autistic disorder; 56 Asperger syndrome; 100 atypical autism).
Moms who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40% reduced risk of having children with autistic disorder compared with moms who did not take folic acid. No reduction in risk was seen for Asperger syndrome or atypical autism.
"There was a dramatic reduction in the risk of autistic disorder in children born to mothers who took folic acid supplements,” Pål Surén, the study’s first author and an epidemiologist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said in a statement.
But the study’s findings do not prove a cause and effect link between folic acid use and ASD, study authors noted.
Currently, an estimated 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autistic disorders are about 5 times more common among boys than girls.
Recently, researchers have started to investigate whether folic acid has other beneficial effects besides protecting the development of the fetus' brain and spinal cord.
A separate 2011 study from the University of California, Davis, showed a lower risk of autism spectrum disorders in children of moms who had used prenatal vitamin supplements during pregnancy.
According to senior author Ezra Susser, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York, the current study raises the possibility of using an inexpensive alternative for reducing the burden of autism spectrum disorders.