Folic Acid For Pregnant Mothers Minimises Autism Risk

A large study conducted in Norway has found that women who take folic acid supplements early in pregnancy are much less likely to have a child with autism. The study appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

A study of more than 85,000 women in Norway found that those who started taking folic acid before getting pregnant were about 40 percent less likely to have a child who developed the disorder, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

NPR reports:

"A study of more than 85,000 women in Norway found that those who started taking folic acid before getting pregnant were about 40 percent less likely to have a child who developed the disorder, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"That's a huge effect," says Ian Lipkin, one of the study's authors and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Folic acid is the synthetic version of a B vitamin called folate. It's found naturally in foods such as spinach, black-eyed peas and rice. Public health officials recommend that women who may become pregnant take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to reduce the chance of having a child with spina bifida.

The link between folic acid and autism risk is especially striking because the supplement is so cheap and easy to get, Lipkin says. "The notion that a very simple, nontoxic food supplement could reduce your risk is profound," he says.

There are caveats, though. To get the full benefit, mothers had to start taking folic acid supplements four weeks before conceiving and keep taking them during the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Risk reduction was also limited to severe autism, not milder forms such as Asperger's.

More details are available at JAMA.