A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that taking folic acid, a B vitamin, before and during the early weeks of pregnancy may reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Researchers in this study which was conducted in Norway, assessed data from 85,000 pregnancies and found that women taking folic acid beginning at least four weeks prior to conception and continuing through eight weeks of pregnancy were 39% less likely to have children with autism.
Greenwood Genetic Center’s (GGC) Director of Research, Charles Schwartz, PhD, who was not involved in the current study, but does conduct autism research, reviewed the paper.
“This large study’s finding is consistent with a study by a California group last year which found an association between preconceptional folic acid intake and reduced ASD risk,” explains Schwartz. “This replication means there indeed may be a potentially exciting link between taking folic acid before and during pregnancy and a lower risk of autism.”
For over 20 years, GGC has been educating individuals and encouraging all women of childbearing age to take a multivitamin containing folic acid. Folic acid has been proven to reduce the risk of certain serious birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects. SC once had the highest incidence of these birth defects in the US. Today, thanks to the efforts of the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program, based at GGC, the incidence of these birth defects in SC has declined by 60% resulting in 70 more babies born healthy each year.
“All women of childbearing age should be taking folic acid, even if they’re not planning a pregnancy,” shares Jane Dean, RN, GGC’s Statewide Coordinator for the Birth Defects Prevention Program. “There’s no harm in taking folic acid, and we know it prevents neural tube defects if started prior to pregnancy. If it also has other benefits such as the reduction of autism risk, that’s a great plus.”