Women planning to become pregnant, or even possibly becoming pregnant without planning, have long been advised to take a daily folic acid supplement because folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects spina bifida, among other conditions in their newborns. According to a new study published in JAMA, taking a folic acid supplement from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after conception may also be associated with a lower risk of having a child with an autistic-spectrum disorder.
The study, conducted by Dr. Pal SurÃ©n of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, and colleagues, included 85,000 Norwegian children from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Of those children, 270 fell on the autism spectrum: 114 were diagnosed with autistic disorder, 56 with Asperger syndrome and 100 with pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) the severest form.
Researchers found an inverse association between folic acid use and risk of autistic disorder, with folic acid users having a 39 percent lower odds of having a child with autistic disorder. This relationship did not hold true for Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS. Furthermore, the association was only present in those mothers taking folic acid during early pregnancy.
Authors warn that this finding does not establish a causal relation between folic acid use and autistic disorder but provides a rationale for replicating analyses in other study samples and further investigating genetic factors and other biological mechanisms that may explain the inverse association.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava comments These are intriguing results indeed. Since we know that folic acid supplementation can reduce the risk of major neurological defects such as spina bifida, there might well be a connection with more subtle defects. Certainly this association deserves further investigation.