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Folic acid may prevent autism

Wednesday February 13th, 2013

Women are encouraged to take the vitamin folic acid in pregnancy - and a new study suggests it may help prevent autism.

The vitamin is currently recommended to help prevent spina bifida - but now Norwegian researchers have linked it to autism prevention.

The link was investigated by Dr Pal Suren of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway, and colleagues. They used information on 85,176 children born between 2002 and 2008, and followed until early 2012.

Of these children, 270 children (0.32%) were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which include autism, Asperger's syndrome, and "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified", or PDD-NOS.

Among these children, 0.13% were autistic, 0.07% have Asperger's syndrome, and 0.12% have PDD-NOS.

Analyses, which took into account maternal education, age, and number of live-born children, show that taking folic acid from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy was linked with a reduced risk. Folic acid lowered the risk of autism from 0.21% of children to 0.10%, representing a 39% lower risk. No link was seen with Asperger's syndrome or PDD-NOS.

Women who used folic acid were more likely to have college- or university-level education, to have planned the pregnancy, to be non-smokers, to have a pre-pregnancy body mass index below 25, and to be first-time mothers.

Full details appear in today's (13 February) issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Supplementation with folic acid around the time of conception reduces the risk of neural tube defects in children," says Dr Suren. "This protective effect has led to mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid in several countries, and it is generally recommended that women planning to become pregnant take a daily supplement of folic acid starting one month before conception."

Suren, P. et al. Prenatal Folic Acid Supplementation Associated With Lower Risk of Autism. The Journal of the American Medical Association 13 February 2013 doi:10.1001/jama.2012.155925

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | Europe | Mental Health | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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