A new study out of Norway, women who took extra folic acid in the weeks proceeding and just after becoming pregnant were less likely to give birth to autistic children. Deficiency in folic acid has been linked to brain and spinal cord birth defects including spinal bifida.
According to lead researcher Dr. Pal Suren of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, his team found that 1 in 1,000 babies born to women who reported taking folic acid early in pregnancy had autism, compared with about 2 in every 1,000 of those mothers who did not take it.
Folic acid (a water soluable B-vitamin) is currently used for preventing and treating low blood levels of folic acid (folic acid deficiency), as well as its complications, including anemia and the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients properly, as well as for other conditions commonly associated with folic acid deficiency, including ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism, and kidney dialysis.
Some people also use folic acid to prevent colon cancer or cervical cancer, prevent heart disease and stroke, and to reduce blood levels of a chemical called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels might be a risk for heart disease.
Other benefits of taking folic acid include treating memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related hearing loss, preventing the eye disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD), reducing signs of aging, osteoporosis, restless leg syndrome, sleep problems, depression, nerve pain, muscle pain, AIDS, a skin disease called vitiligo, and an inherited disease called Fragile-X syndrome. It is also taken to for reduce harmful side effects of treatment with the medications lometrexol and methotrexate.
Because of its many health benefits, folic acid has been added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, since 1988, as required by federal law. Foods that are naturally high in folic acid include leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons) beans, yeast, mushrooms, meat (such as beef liver and kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice.Federal law has also mandated that it be added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, in the US since1988.
*However, there was no connection between fish oil taken during pregnancy and autism risk, suggesting that it is something about folic acid in itself that influences a baby’s autism risk, although Suren and his team did not find any effect of folic acid on other autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s.
The CDC now reports that 1 in 88 children born in the US has an autistic spectrum disorder.
Suren’s study findings can be found in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.