Folic Acid: not just for neural tube defect prevention any more

Taking a folic acid supplement daily, one month before becoming pregnant and throughout the first trimester, is one of the easiest and most effective steps women can take to prevent birth defects.  This simple step, taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, can reduce the chance of having a neural tube defect by 50-70%.

Last week, additional good news about the benefits of folic acid were announced in a study from Norway that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  In the study, pregnant women filled out a questionnaire reporting their use of folic acid from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy.   Over 85,000 babies born to these women between 2002-2008 were followed for an average of 6 years.  Over the course of the study, 270 children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD):  114 had autistic disorder, 56 had Asperger syndrome, and 100 had pervasive developemental delay – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).   The study found that children whose mothers reported taking folic acid were almost 40% less likely be diagnosed with autistic disorder than those whose mothers did not take it.

This is good news for women who want to do everything they can to prevent autism.  Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition with impaired social interaction and communication.  More research is needed to better understand its cause(s), which likely have both genetic and environmental contributions.  But in the meantime, preventing autism is yet another benefit to taking folic acid. 

Read more and see our video on folic acid at this link.

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Siobhan Dolan, Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an attending physician in the Division of Reproductive Genetics at Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein, in New York City. She is co-author of the new March of Dimes pregnancy book, Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby.

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