Autism is a growing problem. While it seems to have always been around, it’s getting more and more common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders has grown from about 1 in every 150 children in 2000 to 1 in every 88 children in 2008, a significant and alarming leap. While there is debate as to what causes autism, scientists have found that pregnant women who supplement with folic acid early in their pregnancy are less likely to have a child diagnosed with autism.
This latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) and the Autism Birth Cohort Study (ABC). These two studies together comprised “the largest prospective birth cohort devoted to the investigation of gene-environment interactions and biomarker discovery for neuropsychiatric disorders,” according to Columbia University.
With a total of 270 cases of autism arising in the sample, 114 had the most serious on the autism spectrum, autistic disorder.
In the study, scientists looked at a total of more than 85,000 babies born between 2002 and 2008. They monitored prenatal dietary habits and lifestyle choices for about 3 to 10 years. What they found, among other things, is that a mother who supplemented with folic acid early on in her pregnancy could significantly reduce her child’s risk of autism.
The likelihood of a mother giving birth to a child with autistic disorder was slashed by 40% with folic acid supplementation. But, when she took the folic acid was nearly more important than if she took it.
The researchers found the magic autism-prevention period to be between 4 and 8 weeks of gestation.
The work suggests that women who take folic acid supplements in this early stage of pregnancy can help reduce their child’s risk of autism. While supplementing with folic acid is common place for pregnant women these days, it was slow in coming. And even now, many women don’t start until late in the pregnancy.
“Our findings extend earlier work on the significance of folate in brain development and raise the possibility of an important and inexpensive public health intervention for reducing the burden of autism spectrum disorders,” joint senior author Ezra Susser, professor of Epidemiology and professor of Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, stated.
While the study found folic acid supplements to positively impact pregnancies, it’s important to note that folic acid is actually the synthetic form of folate – a nutrient found in foods like kiwi, okra, sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens, peanuts, and many more foods.
An extremely important B vitamin for producing and maintaining new cells, folate is an essential compound for a healthy pregnancy. The vitamin helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida and helps the baby to grow sufficiently.
So if you want help both you and your soon-to-be baby, don’t hesitate to increase your folate consumption early on, and continue while pregnant. After all, it could be just enough to prevent numerous abnormalities.
Another important vitamin during pregnancy? Vitamin D!