Recommended folic acid intake during pregnancy could lower chance of having a child with autism

A recent study conducted among California mothers suggests that autism in children may be related to the folic acid intake during pregnancy.

Women participating in the study whose children were diagnosed with autism recalled a folic acid deficiency in their diets early on in their pregnancy when compared to mothers of kids who did not develop the disorder. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, whose study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, discovered that meeting the folic acid intake recommendation of at least 600 micrograms per day during the first month of pregnancy could lower the chance of having a child with autism by 38 percent.

The mothers of 429 preschoolers with an autism spectrum disorder as well as mothers of 278 children with normal development were questioned about their dietary and supplementary habits during pregnancy. Researchers found during the first month of pregnancy, the mothers of babies who developed normally remembered getting an average of 779 micrograms of folic acid a day, with 69 percent of them at least meeting the 600 microgram daily suggested benchmark. Mothers of autistic children averaged 655 micrograms a day, with only 54 percent meeting the recommended daily guideline.

The synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate, folic acid has been shrouded in several theories stemming from praise, then veering toward caution. Some scientists still maintain that a surplus of folic acid during pregnancy might actually be tied to a heightened chance of autism in children. Given such a climate of controversy, Rebecca Schmidt, the lead author of the report, was concerned at the onset of her work about what the results may yield."There were a lot of hypotheses on how perhaps the folic acid fortification in the U.S. was responsible for the increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, so that was also a concern," she said.

Even despite the new findings, there is no definitive evidence confirming that had some mothers adopted more folic acid into their early pregnancy diets, their children would not have developed autism. There are other factors that must be taken into account in future studies to lend more than such prognoses. "I would be very careful," said Dr. Fernando Scaglia, a researcher of autism and folate deficiency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "I think that more studies need to be done to see if this can be replicated."

Even Schmidt herself admits that for the time being, until more extensive studies can be conducted on what exactly it is in the brain that tethers folate to autism, "the recommendations [regarding folic acid intake] that are out there already are pretty good to follow."


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