The possible link between folic acid and autism remains controversial, but a new study shows that women whose children had autism recalled getting less folic acid through food and supplements early in their pregnancies than those whose kids didn’t develop the disorder.
Meeting recommendations for folic acid, at least 600 micrograms per day, in the first month of pregnancy was tied to a 38 percent lower chance of having a kid with autism, researchers reported last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Also known as vitamin B9, methylfolate, or simply folate, folic acid is a B vitamin needed for cell replication and growth. Folic acid helps form building blocks of DNA, the body’s genetic information, and building blocks of RNA, needed for protein synthesis in all cells. Therefore, rapidly growing tissues, such as those of a fetus, and rapidly regenerating cells, like red blood cells and immune cells, have a high need for folic acid. Folic acid deficiency results in a form of anemia that responds quickly to folic acid supplementation.
A synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate, folic acid has been added to breakfast cereals and other grains in the United States since 1998 because of evidence showing deficiencies in pregnant women made it more likely their babies would have brain and spine birth defects. Questions have remained about whether lack of the vitamin, or difficulty processing it, might increase the risk of mental retardation and certain developmental disorders as well.
Folate “becomes very critical in the early stages of life as well as the first year of life, when basically the brain is establishing connections and functions,” said Edward Quadros from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.
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