Study Shows Less Folic Acid in Pregnancy Tied to Autism

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A new study in California has shown that Moms that have not met the recommended 600 micrograms of folic acid early in their pregnancies, had a larger chance of giving birth to children with an autistic disorder, reports Reuters Health.

Women that did get the daily recommended folic acid was tied to a 38 percent lower chance of having a child with autism or Asperger’s, researchers reported last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate.  It has been added to breakfast cereals and grains in the U.S since 1998 after deficiencies in pregnant women made it more likely that their babies would have brain and spinal birth defects.

Folate “becomes very critical in the early stages of life… as well as the first year of life, when basically the brain is establishing connections and functions,” said Edward Quadros from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“If there is a folate deficiency, this disrupts a lot of functioning with the brain,” Quadros, who has studied autism and folic acid but wasn’t involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

The possible link between folic acid and autism remains controversial, researchers noted.

Some scientists have thought extra folic acid during pregnancy might actually be tied to a higher chance of autism.

“There were a lot of hypotheses on how perhaps the folic acid fortification in the U.S. was responsible for the increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, so that was also a concern,” said Rebecca Schmidt, the lead author of the new study from the University of California, Davis.

“When we starting looking at this, I thought it could go either way,” she said.

One limitation is women had to remember their month-to-month diets and supplement use from a few years ago by the time they were surveyed, which makes their reports less reliable.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Schmidt and her colleagues surveyed the mothers if 429 preschoolers with an autism spectrum disorder and 278 mothers of children with normal development.  They were asked about their diet and supplement use before and during their pregnancies.  That information was then calculated to discover how much daily folic acid women were receiving each month.

It was shown that the mothers of children without autism had received more folic acid than those who ended up having an autistic child.

That difference was greatest in the first month of pregnancy, when mothers of normally-developing babies remembered getting an average 779 micrograms of folic acid daily and 69 percent of them at least met the daily guidelines, reports Reuters.

Even with the new findings, there’s no proof that had some moms in the study gotten more folic acid in their pregnancy diets, their children wouldn’t have developed an autism spectrum disorder.

“It seems to be good for neural development overall, but I think we do need to figure out how it’s working,” Schmidt told Reuters Health.

For now, when it comes to folic acid during pregnancy, she said, “The recommendations that are out there already are pretty good to follow.”

SOURCE: Reuters Health, online, June 6th, 2012.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online May 30, 2012.


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