Health Fact: Folic Acid Found to Lower Risk of Autism
If you are planning to have a baby, adding a folate supplement to your diet is a must on your list of to-dos. According to a study published last month by JAMA, women who take folic acid supplements one month before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy reduce the risk of having a baby later diagnosed with autism by 40 percent.
Folic acid is found in green, leafy vegetables, lentils, black beans, peanuts, romaine lettuce, broccoli, as well as in iron supplements and prenatal vitamins. How important is it for women to get plenty of this B vitamin? Doctors say that folic acid plays a vital role in the neural tube development of a baby within the first days and weeks of conception. Defects in neural development can lead to autism and spina bifida; including impaired language, social and communication skills.
“Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that are often diagnosed during early childhood,” explains Dr. Robert Berry, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and a co-author of the report.
The report, which used JAMA’s research data conducted on more than 85,000 Norwegian children born between 2002 and 2008, found that of the women who did not take folic acid, autistic disorder was present in 0.21 percent in children, compared with 0.10 percent of children whose mothers did take folic acid. The causes of autism are complex, and doctors have yet to discover a singular cause of the condition, but the study offers hope–and more reason–for expectant mothers to understand how critical it is to take folate supplements. Just how much should an expectant mother take? The CDC, the U.S. Public Health Service, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), all recommend that women of child-bearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Some groups, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggest boosting your intake to at least 600 mcg daily once you’re pregnant.
There has been a steady increase of children with autism over the past decade. The CDC reports that the number of children diagnosed with autism has doubled over the past ten years: From 2008 until today, the statistics reveal that one in 88 children have Autism. In 2000, that number was one in 150. And when it comes to Hispanic children, that number increased by 110% between 2002 and 2008, compared with a 70% increase for white children.