Study: Folic acid reduces risk of autism

February 12, 2013 3:05:55 PM PST
In a surprising finding, newly released research has linked folic acid and a lower risk of autism. The study found that pregnant women who took folic acid before conception had a lower risk of their child developing autism.

Folic acid has already been thought to reduce the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Now, a Norwegian study done with a researcher from Columbia University has found folic acid may also protect against autism.

"The women who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a substantial reduction in the risk of having a child with autism. The reduction was 40 percent," said Dr. Pal Suren with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

They looked at records of 85,000 Norwegian children and found that those mothers who took folic acid had fewer children with autism.

"There's a sensitive period in which folic acid supplements need to be taken in order to reduce the risk of autism. The period begins before pregnancy and continues approximately two months after pregnancy," said Dr. Ezra Susser with Columbia University.

But the timing was important. The folic acid had to be taken from 4 weeks before pregnancy through 8 weeks after. Taking it mid-pregnancy didn't seem to help.

"This provides an additional reason to take folic acid supplements and it underlines the importance of starting early before the pregnancy has started," Dr. Suren said.

The study doesn't say the lack of folic acid causes autism, only that it's associated with it. And since folic acid is needed to protect children against other neurological problems, this is another reason for women planning a pregnancy to consider taking it.

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