Study Links Folic Acid Deficiency During Pregnancy to Autism

Eating during pregnancy

A new study says women who don’t get enough folic acid during their pregnancies might be more likely to give birth to babies with autism or Asperger’s. Expectant moms who had a folic acid intake of at least 600 micrograms per day had a 38 percent lower chance of having a child who would later be diagnosed with one of these “spectrum disorders.”

The connection between folic acid and autism hasn’t been proven outright, and this study remains controversial within the medical community. Some scientists have previously thought that too much folic acid might be related to an increased chance of autism, and even the lead scientist in this latest study, Rebecca Schmidt from UC Davis, said, “I thought it could go either way.” Other studies have linked folic acid to babies’ brain development, but research has not yet proven how the substance might affect chances of autism and Asperger’s.

The study showed that folic acid intake is most important during the first month of pregnancy, but considering that most women don’t even know they’re pregnant until the second month, it’s important that women who are trying to become pregnant (or who are at risk of becoming pregnant) get enough folic acid and/or folate well before becoming pregnant. The American Pediatric Association recommends an intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for one month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy, the time when the baby’s brain and spinal cord are undergoing important early development. Getting enough folic acid has also been shown to reduce the risk of fetuses developing neural tube defects like spina bifida.

Here’s the APA’s list of foods that can help women get enough folic acid:

  • Leafy green vegetables, such as a large spinach salad
  • Citrus fruits, such as orange juice
  • Beans
  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Pastas

Most prenatal vitamins also contain folic acid, so make sure you talk to your doctor about which one is right for you…and then don’t forget to take it every day!

Click here to read the study, released by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on May 30, 2012.